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Sneezing: A Symptom or A Symbol?

Author: Cheryl Lynne Bradley

© Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2001-2, cannot be reproduced without author's consent.

"One sneeze, a wish
Two sneezes, a kiss
Three sneezes, a
Four sneezes, a letter"

As my household has spent the past two weeks fighting the fall version of the
pit plague crud, in between the God Bless You's and doses of cough medicine, I
have had some time to contemplate on sneezing, or sternutation.

"Once a wish,
Twice a kiss,
Three times something

Sneezing received much attention in ancient cultures as omens and divination.
Sneezing was attributed by some to relate to the invisible visit of a protective
deity, the bird of Jupiter Conservator. A widespread belief in Persian folk
tradition considers a single sneeze to be a sign that you have to stop whatever
you are doing. This is called sabr Amad (patience is in order). A double sneeze
is a sign that you should speed up whatever you are doing. The Japanese believe
one sneeze means someone is speaking highly of you and two indicate someone
speaking ill of you.

'If one observes the movements and cries of birds or of any animals, or
the sneezing of men, or the sudden movements of limbs, this belongs in general
to "augury," '
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II of Part II,
Question 95

The Roman Augers used five different systems of omens to fortell events. The
fifth was called Dira which covered such events as spilling salt on a table,
wine on your clothes, hearing strange noises, stumbling or sneezing. While some
people feel that saying "Bless You" or "God Bless You" to someone who has just
sneezed is superstitious, it was a common expression in Roman times. In those
times sneezing could have been the first sign that the sneezer had the plague
and it was said as a blessing.

Some superstitions believe that the devil can enter your body when you
sneeze; someone saying, "God bless you," will drive the devil away. Another
common belief was that the soul could leave or escape from your body when you
sneezed. Covering your mouth while you sneezed prevented this from happening.

"Ring a Ring of Roses
A Pocket full of Posies
All Fall Down."

The verse to a very old children's game we all played, refers to the spread
of illness through sneezing. In days not all that far past, small pox, plague
and influenza were spread through sneezes and all carried a high mortality rate
- "All fall down." Not a happy story for a such a sweet rhyme. In 1919 a law was
enacted in the United States to keep victims of the influenza epidemic off the
streets. It became a crime to sneeze in public. People with flu, colds and
hayfever were jailed if they broke the law. The epidemic killed 20 million
people before it was finished.

The common cold is the most common illness, with symptons lasting from 4 days
to two weeks, and some 200 viruses known to cause colds. As we age we will get
fewer colds. One sneeze can propel 100,000 bacteria into the air at about
320km/h and the average force of a sneeze is 167 km/h . Women catch more colds
than men but the symptoms are less severe. Sneezing while driving a vehicle can
leave you driving blind for 100 to 300 feet.

According to the Dalai Lama, Buddhist teachings inform us that people can
attain low-level near-death awareness and "clear light" by sneezing. It is the
Buddhists aim to pass through every transition with lucid awareness, the
ultimate goal being to die lucidly. The same "clear light" experience occurs
with yawning, falling asleep, and orgasm. Sneezing is sometimes referred to as
the orgasm of the nose and it is quite a popular sexual fetish.

Sneezing is both a symptom and symbol. Divination for cough and cold season,
just a little magic to go with the medicine. God bless you!!!

My Nose Garden

I have roses and rowses of noses and noses,

And why they all growses I really can't guess.
No lilies or roses, just
cold-catching noses,
And when they all blowses, it's really a mess.

They runs and they glowses, these sneezity noses,
They frips and
they flowses, they blooms and they dies.
But you can't bring noses to fine
flower showses
And really expect them to give you a prize.

But each
mornin' I goeses to watter with hoses
These rowses of noses that I cannot
The red sniffly noses that cause all my woeses,
Why even the
crowses complain that they smell.

Why noses, not roses? Well, nobody
Why do you supposes they growses this thick?
But since there's
no roses come gather some roses-
I guarantee each one's a good nose to pick.

Shel Silverstein, Falling Up

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