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The bruxa (female) or bruxo (male) was the witch figure of Portugal, similar in many ways to the bruja of Spain and Mexico. The bruxa was a pre-Christian figure that became prominent in the Middle Ages. At that time, the Inquisition focused attention upon pagan beliefs and demonized them as malevolent activities of Satan. In rural Portugal, belief in witchcraft survived into the twentieth century and the government periodically has taken measures to destroy its continuing influence.

The bruxa (who was generally described as a woman) entered the lists of vampire entities due to her bloodsucking attacks upon infants. She also assumed the form of various animals, most often a duck, rat, goose, dove, or ant. Her power was largely confined to the hours from midnight to two o’clock in the morning. The witches in a region gathered at the crossroads on Tuesdays and Fridays, and these days assumed negative connotations in Portuguese folklore. At their gatherings, the witches were believed to worship Satan, from whom they gained various evil powers, such as the evil eye.

Protection from a bruxa was supplied by a wide variety of magical amulets. Children were also protected by the use of iron and steel. A steel nail on the ground or a pair of scissors under their pillow would keep the witches away. There was also a belief in the spoken word, and the folklore was rich in examples of various incantations against witches. Garlic would be sewn into the clothes of children to protect them from being carried away by witches.

After an attack, attempts would be made to identify the malevolent witch. The mother of the deceased child could boil the child’s clothes while jabbing them with a sharp instrument. The witch would supposedly feel the jabs on her own body and would be compelled to come and ask for mercy. Or the mother might take a broom and sweep the house backwards, from the door inward, while repeating an incantation to make the witch manifest. The broom, a symbol of witchcraft, was used to cause witches to relax. As recently as 1932, author Rodney Gallop reported the case of an infant in the town of Santa Leocadia de Baiao who had died of suffocation. The parents were sure that it had been “sucked by witches.” The grandmother reported seeing the witch fly away disguised as a black sparrow.

Because of her ability to transform into animal forms, the bruxa was often associated with the lobishomen, the name by which werewolves were known in Portugal. The lobishomen was also known to change form on Tuesdays and Fridays, the same days the witches gathered.


Gallop, Rodney. Portugal: A Book of Folk-Ways. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936. 291 pp.

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