Are beliefs inherited?

Last Sunday I was struck down with gastro flu, a distinctly uncomfortable illness which saw me running to the bathroom in between snatches of feverish sleep. By Monday I recovered enough to sit up in bed, read a little and think a lot. Naturally I pondered on my recent illness and I called my Naturopath for advice on recovering.

I rely more on my Naturopath / Homeopath than I do on my doctor. Why? I’m not sure I can answer satisfactorily. However, once I was back on my feet and again researching my family history for my manuscript, I was interested to discover aspects to my grandfather – my father’s father – which concur with my beliefs. Or, do I agree with his?

Long ago my mother told me my grandfather was an iridologist and a homeopath. He did not believe in conventional Western medicine. There were two incidents, related to me by my mother and confirmed by my father, which point to his beliefs being unhelpful and perhaps destructive to his family. My grandmother suffered from asthma and, according to family lore, my grandfather refused to have her treated by conventional doctors, preferring to treat her himself with homeopathics. She died of asthma in her fifties. The other story recalls the time my father had appendicitis. My grandfather would not take him to a hospital until my aunt intervened, rushing my father to the only hospital in the area with a doctor willing to operate on him at so late a stage. He nearly died.

After these two episodes you would think my father would embrace Western medicine. Not so. He did not take kindly to doctors and, even in his last years, would reject their advice and the medication prescribed to him. But he didn’t like taking any medication – conventional or otherwise. My mother, on the other hand, self-medicated on vitamins but kept all her options open by taking prescribed medication as well.

What about me? What do I believe?

As a child I was often sick, having inherited my grandmother’s asthma. My mother took me to a myriad of doctors. As I grew older and, even before I knew about my grandfather, I was drawn to alternative medicine. I also believe there is a strong connection between mind and body, I use affirmations and I am attempting to learn meditation. I believe in a spiritual universe which can affect our health and well-being. My parents certainly didn’t influence me in those ways. Both were Christian, with my mother overtly religious. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my grandfather was a follower of Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner. This philosophy believes in the existence of a contactable spiritual world and uses meditation as one of the means of inner development. My grandfather knew Steiner and sent his eldest daughter to one of his first schools. He was also a seeker of knowledge, attempting to discover the secrets and mysteries of the universe, using the philosophy of Theosophy. I can relate to my grandfather’s beliefs and, despite never meeting him, knowing he had similar thoughts, makes me feel closer to him.

So, did I inherit my beliefs from my grandfather, or is it simply a random coincidence? I am not sure. I have heard of scientific tests which prove beliefs can be inherited, but perhaps James Baldwin had a point when he said: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

Alex

Alex de Fircks is a writer of memoir and short fiction. She blogs about family, moments in time, memories and travel. Alex is passionate about history, genealogy and family stories.

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