Sneeze and the Devil May Come

By Anna Rollins, Editor-in-Chief

The person sitting much too close to your left sneezes. Spit flies, germs buzz. You reply, “God bless you?”

In 600 AD, this common phrase uttered by many became common for the first time. Pope Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great, made his reign during a time when the bubonic plague was spreading throughout Europe. The act of a sneeze was a primary sign of the deadly virus. By responding with the blessing of God, a bystander could take aid in ensuring the one who sneezed would not fall over dead.

During the Middle Ages, sneezing was thought to leave the body spiritually unguarded, opening one’s doors to the Devil and allowing him to enter one’s soul. Simply stating “God bless you” when someone sneezed would secure their purity and help them to stand strong against any devilish ways. However, others believed the latter. Sneezing was alternatively assumed to release the Devil from one’s soul and the simple phrase would safeguard one’s body from the possible re-entry of the sneaky demon.

In German culture after a sneeze, it is polite to reply, “Gesundheit” (ga-zoon-tight), which translates to health, as does “Salud,” the Spanish form of “God bless you.” Similarly, the Irish say “Sláinte,” meaning good health.

In Persian culture, sneezing (“sabr”) informs one to wait and be patient. When one sneezes on their way to do something or go somewhere, one must stop and sit for some time to allow the “bad thing” to pass in order to be saved. Indian culture observes this way of cleansing oneself as well.

French rebuttals are different from all others. They bless one another for each sneeze they blow. After the first sneeze comes “à tes souhaits” (to your wishes). The second brings, “à tes amours” (to your love’s). A third provokes “qu’elles durent toujours” (may they [loves] last forever). If a fourth blow is to occur, the french reply with the words of Adam Osimole, “va crever” (go and die).

Next time you sneeze spraying spittle into the atmosphere, I can only hope good health will come to you and that the Devil will not weasel his way deep into your soul.