dark sun

Bricta/Brixta: Dark Side of the Sun

Bricta is a complex goddess, whose name comes either from the same root as Brigit: “Highest”, or else from a Gaulish word for a spell or curse. Her cult centers on Luxeuil in France, which is rich in thermal and other springs. Several dedications to her, as well as many offerings, were found at the site of the Gallo-Roman thermal baths.

Healing Water

The full name of the place is Luxeuil-les-Bains, emphasizing the importance of the waters from pre-Roman times onward. As the Princeton Encyclopedia says:

Antique catchinents and the remains of a Gallo-Roman bath house have been discovered. The cult of the springs is attested by hundreds of traditional Gallic votive statuettes made of oak, as well as by dedicatory inscriptions made not merely to the divine pair mentioned above [Bricta and Luxovius], but also to the healing divinities Apollo and Sirona, associated as at Hochscheid. Another religious artifact is a curious group representing Jupiter on horseback, the anguiped monster, and a third person attached to the horse.

The dedications, presumably from grateful people who had sought healing, are pretty straightforward, and both mention Bricta and her partner:

[Lus]soio / et Brictae / Divixti/us Cons/tans / v(otum) s(olvit) <l=t>(ibens) m(erito)</l=t>
“To Lusso(v)ios and Bricta, Divixtius Constans freely and deservedly fulfilled his vow.” (CIL 13, 05425)
Luxovio / et Brixtae / G(aius) Iul(ius) Fir/manus / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)
“To Luxovios and Brixta, Gaius Julius Firmans freely and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”

(AE 1951, 00231; CIL 13, 05426)

The pair have a distinguished lineage; Bricta is often assumed to be similar to Brigit, both sharing the brig– element meaning “high or lofty”, while Luxovius is sometimes assumed to be a local version of the Irish god Lugh, from the root *leuk, light. (Olmstead (365) suggests a similar meaning for Bricta, from *bhrēk- “to shine”.)

Witchy Goddess?

It should be noted, however, that other people think that Brixta comes from brixtom or brixta meaning a curse. This would tie Brixta in with Sul, whose temple had a large hoard of curse tablets in it, mostly calling down divine wrath on thieves, but also rivals in love.

Lead curse tablet from Bath. Picture by Damian Entwistle on Flickr.

Sulis Minerva was another healing goddess whose thermal (and iron-rich) waters were so highly regarded that the Romans built a huge bathhouse and shrine around them. Another is the god Nodens, who also had a shrine at Lydney Park overlooking the Severn river. His shrine incorporated many healing features, including a dormitory where suppliants would have dreams that might help heal them. However, the excavators also found a lead curse tablet at his shrine, calling down vengeance on a thief.

Unlike Sul or Nodens, Bricta’s very name may point to a dark, magical nature. As Naomie Beck explains:

Brixta/Bricta is to be related to the Gaulish word brixtom/brictom or brixta signifying ‘magic’, ‘enchantment’, ‘charm’ or ‘spell’. The word brixta appears on line 3 of a twelve-line magical formula addressed to the god Maponos, inscribed on a lead tablet discovered in 1971 at a place known as the ‘Sources des Roches’ in Chamalières (Puy-de-Dôme): brixtía andiron, that is ‘by the magic power of the infernal (deities)…

(The words brixta and bricta, by the way, are interchangeable in the Gaulish of that time, where people would have considered xt and ct to be the same sound.)

Another lead tablet, from Hodpitalet-du-Larzac, also uses the word bricta to mean magic:  in sinde se bnanom brictom, i.e. ‘the magic of the women’, and line 9: andernados brictom, i.e. ‘the magic of the underworld’, suggesting the sort of magic that Bricta might be associated with.

They follow a formula close to an Irish one, se-bnanom bricto “the spells of these women” or Irish brichtu ban, “women’s spells”. This would indicate a rather dark side to Bricta. (Just check out these ancient curses, which desire the death of a rival charioteer.) (Koch: 283)

It is hard to know, from so little evidence, if Bricta was a sun or fire goddess, although the latter seems likely. I think that she was a goddess of the fire within the earth as much as in the sky, like Sul. As the all-seeing sun, she would be able to see wrongdoing, and as the fire she would be able to avenge it. The fire aspect would fit with her being a Celtic Minerva, like Brigit and Sul, who also had fire-cults and healing water.

She would not be the only solar deity to have a vengeful side – think of Apollo, who could cause and cure disease. Like him, she (and Sul) could both cure disease and punish wrongdoers or those who offended them. It is an aspect of deity that we post-Christians have some trouble with, although the impulses that led to curse tablets are still with us. (And the Greeks had their share of witchy women associated with light and the sun: Medea, Hecate and Circe were all relatives of the sun-god.)

River-Goddess

Breuchin river at Proiselière-et-Langle, by Félix Potuit. Wikimedia

Bricta’s consort, Luxovius, probably gave his name to the Roman settlement of Luxeuil. This suggests that he may have been a tutelary deity as well as a god water, healing and possibly light. If he was the god of Luxeuil, he and Bricta might have had a symbiotic relationship, as one scholar sees Bricta as the goddess of the river Breuchin, which passes through Luxeuil and provides its water. This would link her to the many Celtic river-goddesses.

Thermal Baths

Dedications to Bricta/Brixta and Luxovius have been found there, as well as many votive statuettes. (Some suppliants seem to have given the credit to other deities, as dedications to Sirona and Apollo have also been found there.) There is also a statue of Jupiter on horseback, riding down a serpent. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the altar of Solimara with the horse and fish/serpent.)

The main centre of worship for Bricta and Luxovius was the Gallo-Roman baths at Luxeuil, first excavated beginning in 1775. As Beck describes it:

The Gallo-Roman building, situated on the site of the present baths, was composed of more than five vaulted rooms, cobbled with alabaster and adorned with mosaics, containing baths, basins and surrounded by galleries with porticos. A network of piping, including aqueducts in stone and hollowed oak trunks serving as channels for harnessing the spring water inside the establishment, was also discovered. Nearby the ferruginous springs, Félix Bourquelot unearthed remains of columns, which could indicate proof of the existence of a small temple dedicated to Luxovius and Bricta in this area. It is besides interesting to note that, in the 19th c., the ferruginous springs were called ‘Springs of the Temple’.

The three inscriptions to Bricta and Luxovius came from the Baths, and three barrels of coins, some gold or silver, were recovered from the site. As you might expect, the excavators also found many ex-votos, some in the shape of body parts, others showing the pilgrims themselves. Since these wooden carvings often wear torcs or the hooded cloak of the Gauls, we have to assume they were locals.

The divine pair shared their temple with other deities, in good polytheistic style. One white marble altar was dedicated to Sirona and Apollo, whose cult extended from northern Gaul across to the empire’s borders in Germany and Budapest. (According to the Wikipedia entry, one scholar has suggested that Bricta was a form of Sirona, but there’s no evidence that this is the case. Beck’s map (scroll down) shows a number of healing and water goddesses in France, suggesting that Bricta was part of a pattern.)

There is also a statue of Jupiter on horseback, riding down a serpent. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the altar of Solimara with the horse and fish/serpent.)


References

Beck, Noemie, Goddesses in Celtic Religion, University of Lyons, thesis. (online version here)
Green, Miranda 1992: Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Thames and Hudson.
Koch, John 2006: Celtic Culture – a Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-Clio (from Google).
McCrickard, Janet 1990: Eclipse of the Sun, Gothic Image.
Olmstead, Garrrett 1994: The Gods of the Celts and Indo-Europeans, Verlag des Instituts für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck.

If you like the image at the top, click here.

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6 thoughts on “Bricta/Brixta: Dark Side of the Sun

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