Ever wonder about the origins of why we say, “Bless you” when someone sneezes? Whenever someone has a cold, there are countless “Bless yous.”
Why and how did that start?
Some say that at one time ancient people thought that a person was composed of different gases and vapors, and when you sneezed, you lost some of the vapors. This decreased your ability to live a healthy life. So when you sneezed, your companion would pray to God asking for His help in restoring your vapors to make you healthy again.
In England, there is a very old nursery rhyme called “ring ‘o ring ‘o roses” in which there is a verse “atishoo, atishoo, all fall down.” This goes back to the time of the plague when a sneeze preceded the rest of the symptoms and was followed by death. The “Bless you” is thought to have possibly expressed hope that the sneeze was an innocent one.
You may have also heard that when you sneeze your heart stops for that second or in other words it skips a beat. So, the “Bless you” could be a prayer that the heart continues its beating. I don’t know where this one originated and can’t find anything to give it credibility.
Another old tale says that when you sneeze, the devil is able to take over your soul. Saying, “Bless you” prevents him from doing that.
One popular old legend says that before the time of Jacob, law said that men only sneezed once, and it was fatal. Jacob had the law relaxed with the condition that every sneeze be accompanied with a prayer.
Another says that the mythical deity Prometheus caused a lump of clay to turn into a man when he sneezed. Delighted with his creation, he said, “Bless you”.
The Italian historian, Carlo Sigonio, said that the practice of blessing the sneezer began in the sixth century during the time of Gregory the Great. In this period of history, there was a horrific flu type epidemic that was fatal to those who sneezed. The Pope ordered prayers to be said against it along with the sign of the cross.
The Icelander says, “God help me” when he sneezes and “God help thee” when someone else sneezes. And again history says that this started when a disease called the Black Pest raged thru the country causing death after someone sneezed. The only two survivors in the area were the ones who blessed each other.
In 1542, the Spanish Explorer, Hernando de Soto, was in Florida and received a visit from a native chief named Guschoya.
The chief sneezed, and his attendants quickly offered phrases such as, “May the sun guard thee, be with thee, magnify thee, protect thee, and favor thee.”
De Soto was impressed that these savage tribes had more elaborate ceremonies connected with sneezing than did the civilized world. He reasoned that such rituals were common among all mankind. Early English explorers found that remote parts Africa and the Far East also had customs of blessings or salutations after sneezing.
Indeed, Speke and Grant found no traces of religion among the natives of equatorial Africa but did note that some sort of an Arabic prayer followed every sneeze.
The Omahas, Dakotas and other Sioux tribes of American Indians have an odd importance attached to sneezing. If one of their tribe sneezes, it is said that his son, his wife, or a good friend is calling his name.
So if he sneezes once, he says, “My son!” But a double sneeze brings, “ My son and his mother!”
The apparent independent but similar practices of blessings or salutations after sneezing in both civilized and uncivilized countries far away from each other leads one to believe in the striking similarity of human minds.
God bless you and you didn’t even have to sneeze!