g99 10/22 p. 3 Superstitions—How Widespread Today? ***
IT HAPPENS everywhere—at work, at school, on public transportation, and on the street. You sneeze, and people you’ve never met, mere passersby, say: "God bless you" or simply "Bless you." There are similar expressions in many languages. In German the response is "Gesundheit."
Arabs say "Yarhamak Allah,"
and some South Pacific Polynesians say "Tihei mauri ora."
Believing that it is simply common courtesy rooted in social etiquette, you may have given little thought to why people say this. Yet, the expression is rooted in superstition. Moira Smith, librarian at the Folklore Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A., says of the expression: "It comes from the idea that you are sneezing out your soul." To say "God bless" is, in effect, asking God to restore it.
Of course, most people would probably agree that to believe that the soul escapes your body during a sneeze is irrational. Not surprisingly, therefore, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
defines superstition as "a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation."
Little wonder that a 17th-century physician called superstitions of his day the "vulgar errors" of the uneducated. Thus, as humans entered the 20th century with its scientific achievements, The Encyclopædia Britannica
of 1910 optimistically foresaw the time when "civilization [would be] freed from the last ghost of superstition."