In the traditional lore of ancient Picardy is the following legend:--
In the vicinity of Englebelmer nocturnal wayfarers were often surprised at hearing repeated sneezes by the roadside, and the young people of the neighboring villages made frequent attempts to ascertain the origin of the mysterious sounds, but without avail. The mischievous spirit or lutin took pleasure in seeing them run about in a vain search while he himself remained invisible. Finally people became accustomed to hearing these phantom sneezes, and, as no harm had ever resulted to any one, with the contempt bred of familiarity they gave little heed to the spiritual manifestations, and were content with merely crossing themselves devoutly.
One fine moonlight evening in summer a peasant returning from market heard the usual Atchi, atchi, but pursued his way with equanimity. However, the lutin pursued him for about a mile, sneezing repeatedly. At length the peasant impatiently exclaimed, "May the good Lord bless you and your cold in the head!" Scarcely had he spoken when there appeared before him the apparition of a man clad in a long white garment. "Thank you, my friend," said he; "you have just released me from the spell under which I have long rested. In consequence of my sins, God condemned me to wander about this village sneezing without rest from eve till morn, until some charitable person should deliver me by saying a benediction. For at least five hundred years I have thus roamed about, and you are the first one who has said to me 'God bless you.' Fortunately it occurred to me to follow you, and thus I have been set free. I thank you. Good-by."
Thereafter the mysterious sounds were no longer heard; and thus, in the belief of the peasants of Picardy, arose the custom of salutation after sneezing.
Under a bridge near the town of Paderborn, in Prussia, there lives a poor soul who does nothing but sneeze at frequent intervals. If a wagon happens to pass over the bridge at the moment when a sneeze is heard, and the driver fails to say "God help thee," the vehicle will surely be overturned, and the driver will become poor and break his leg.
Tradition says that a godless fellow who died long ago of incessant sneezing, during an epidemic of the plague at Wurmlingen in Würtemberg, was condemned on account of his sins to wander about the neighborhood, still sneezing at intervals. One day, while one of the villagers was crossing a bridge over some meadows near the town, he heard some one underneath sneeze twice, and each time he piously responded, "God help thee!" When, however, he heard a third sneeze, the villager thought to himself, "That fellow may keep on sneezing for a long time and make a fool of me." So he cried out angrily, "May the Devil help you!" Thereupon a voice from under the bridge exclaimed pitifully, "If you had only said, 'God help thee!' a third time, I should have been freed from the spell which binds me."