About sneeze blessings

Posted by Lotg on September 18, 2004

I know that the use of 'bless you' when someone sneezes has previously been discussed here. But this morning I discovered more while doing my Saturday morning newspaper reading.

I read an article where a man who didn't believe in 'blessings' resented having to say 'bless you' when someone sneezed, and equally resented it being said to him.

He wrote into a magazine to discuss the etiquette of doing this.

The reply discussed the origins, eg. the Bubonic Plague and the need to offer blessings to protect them from harm. But he then mentioned other cultures who do the same thing for similar reasons, eg. Germany's Gesundheit, meaning 'good health' - as a way to ward off evil: they believed that sneezing momentarily expelled the soul from the body, allowing demons to enter through the nose.

The Ancient Romans apparently said "long may you live" presumably in Roman, as a form of congratulations, because sneezing was thought to expel all the bad energy from the body.

Egyptian Muslims apparently say "praise be to Allah" as a gesture of religious celebration: they believe sneezing is a cause for great joy because the world was created out of one of Allah's sneezes - which the writer adds, he guesses finally explains Greenland (a little unkind, but I liked it).

The writer goes onto suggest it's just a nice, harmless gesture of caring and kindness, shared by people everywhere. So maybe this guys should just smile and be grateful when offered such a blessing. I tend to agree.

Anyway, what intrigued me here is that so many cultures, with such distance between them, seem to believe that a sneeze has so much power. Does anyone know of any other cultures with other slants on this?