Why Do We 'God Bless' a Sneeze?

sneeze, allergies, bless you
It is believed that blessing sneezes began as a way to protect the soul while being ejected during the event. (Image credit: Michael Krause | Dreamstime)

There's no bodily function as sacred as the sneeze, it seems. It's an act that gets blessed by God left, right and center, sometimes up to four or five times in one snot, uh, shot. Why all the rhinal reverence?

Folklorists believe people began blessing sneezes sometime in the Middle Ages as a way of protecting the soul, which they thought could be ejected violently through the nose every time the unlucky sniffler worked up a good achoo. The blessing acted like a holy safety net in case the devil, always on the prowl for a pious soul to snatch up, was hanging out nearby.

The German gesundheit, literally meaning "good health," is a progressive separation of church and sneeze.

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Heather Whipps
Heather Whipps writes about history, anthropology and health for Live Science. She received her Diploma of College Studies in Social Sciences from John Abbott College and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from McGill University, both in Quebec. She has hiked with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and is an avid athlete and watcher of sports, particularly her favorite ice hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens. Oh yeah, she hates papaya.