Celebrate with a sneeze


Hayfever usually peaks when grass and weed pollen is high, that is, in July and August. It is a great descriptive term, yet the cause of the symptoms is not usually hay and it is not a fever.

Microscopic spores and pollens dance on the air, and with each in breath they intrude on our bodies. And if you react to one pollen, allergic responses to other fruits and vegetables may be stimulated. This is called cross reaction. There is a great play on words here. Not only is the reaction a-cross species of plants, but it is also often quite angry. Sensitive cells, affected by these foreigners, swell and respond with itchiness and mucus, trying to repel the invaders.

For many springtime and harvest season bestow running nose, red itching eyes and prolonged repeated sneezing. Oddly involuntary sneezing is not only brought on by allergic responses. Bright light causes some to sneeze.

In Ireland it is said that a sneeze indicates that you are about to argue with someone. To prevent the fight you must ask someone to slap the back of your hand and then slap them back. The addition of saying 'Dia linn', God be with us, also helps.

From Lore of Certain Days - Duchas Schools Collection
Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger,
Sneeze on Tuesday, meet a stranger.
Sneeze on Wednesday, sneeze for a letter,
Sneeze on Thursday, sneeze for the better.
Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for sorrow.
Sneeze on Saturday, see your sweet heart tomorrow.


There are great legends told about sneezing. In many parts of Ireland a witch dwells on a high crag. She is a crone, a cailleach, an old one. Each night she sets a magical light at the summit of her mountain home, which can be seen for many many miles. Some call it the Rock of the Candle. Woe betide anyone who sees its luminous beams, for within twelve months they will die. They will start a fatal fit of sneezing and they will never stop. So:

Lock your door. Stay safe within at night. Never look upon the cailleach's light.

Except in many versions of the tale you can now look upon the deadly lamp. For who else but St. Patrick passed by one evening. Asking why all the doors and windows are closed, and strangers not welcomed after dark, he is told of the dreadful fate that would befall the fool who opened a door and witnessed the light. Patrick sees a challenge he cannot resist.

'Open all the doors and windows' he says 'for I will finish this enchantment.'

So the doors are opened, Patrick stands with his Book open in his hands. The light duly shines out and a woman, nearby, sneezes.

'God bless us', says Patrick, trusting that no harm would come to the sufferer.

The light shines again, and the distressed woman sneezes.

'God be with us' the saint intones, and on the third sneeze 'God and Mary be with us'.

No one has died from sneezing since!

Well some say it was a wizard or a Druid not a Crone, or maybe an evil being or monster. And some say it was Brigid not Patrick. And if it was Brigid you held a cross of rushes between yourself and the fire.

And some say that Patrick climbed the mountain with a boy, and at the top they saw a crowd of people and the old woman tending the fire.

'God and Mary be with us' says the saint. And the woman is turned into a heap of black beetles and is destroyed in her own flames.

Or they are standing by a rock in which dwells a fierce-some serpent, and that is the source of the light. With the blessing of the sneezes the serpent is defeated and the rock splits into three.


There is an upside to all this sneezing – a teaching from Tibetan Buddhism. Followers believe that within the moment of the sneeze, of the violent exhalation, of the fierce out-breath, is an instant of revelation, of 'clear consciousness'. At this moment comes enlightenment and wisdom.