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Why Edgar Cayce Was Not a Psychic

Edgar Cayce

Harmon Bro (1919-1997) worked for Cayce in 1943-1944 as a part of his graduate research in religion, having been exposed to the subject by his mother. He went on to write a doctoral dissertation on Cayce for the University of Chicago in 1955, and served in a wide variety of academic roles over the rest of his life. In 1974 he and his wife June founded the Pilgrim Institute, a spiritual organization based in Cape Cod. A longtime dissident within the Cayce movement, Dr. Bro was also a Christian (Disciples of Christ) minister and a spiritual counselor with Jungian leanings. His books include Edgar Cayce On Dreams, Edgar Cayce On Religion and Psychic Experience, Dreams in the Life of Prayer and Meditation, High Play, Begin a New Life, and the Cayce biography A Seer Out Of Season. This paper captures his perspective on Cayce and the Cayce movement very well. A summary of it was delivered before a study section on "The Life, Work, and Influence of Edgar Cayce" at the 1990 annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Religious Research Association, held at Virginia Beach.

The thesis of this paper is that using the term "psychic" as the central typological designation for Edgar Cayce misdirects serious inquiry on who he was and what he did, as well as impedes replication of his activity, by emphasizing his acquisition of data at the expense of the rich system of values which he both expounded and enacted, and in which he grounded his own self-understanding and practice.

Consequences of describing him as a psychic include these:

(1) assimilating his work to technique and technology, as a runaway feature of modernity, leading to stressing power and powers ahead of the life-transforming engagement which he actually practiced, both in trance and out;

(2) generating a psychic-oriented following for his work in the decades since his death, which has tended to cut loose from the deep roots in biblical faith that he claimed and espoused in favor of a frequently anti-institutional, anti-establishment posture alien to his own, with preferential attention to the novel, the strange, the colorful;

(3) fostering a drift among his followers toward abandonment of the critical empiricism which Cayce both practiced and recommended, in favor of devotion to authority of trance utterance, which ultimately trivializes his life and work, tends to produce a Cayce cult, and lends itself to commercializing the legacy of his thought and action.

Alternative typological approaches are suggested for the study of Cayce in religion, sociology of religion, and psychology of religion.

I. Why bother?

At first pass, Cayce's life, work, and thought would seem hardly worth the attention of serious scholars. As the media figure which he has so largely become, he is surrounded by a penumbra of such colorful or controversial concerns as Atlantis, coming earthquakes, ancient pyramids, reincarnation, astrology, high colonic enemas, past lives of Jesus, potent gems and crystals, and methods of becoming healthy, wealthy, and influential by utilizing hidden powers of the mind in dreams, meditation, ESP, and karmic recall.

Not surprisingly, collections of exerpts from his counseling transcripts, essays on his thought, biographical accounts of his life and work, and studies of his followers (who now span nearly a century) almost never appear in academic course bibliographies, and are not often the subject of term papers or--except rarely--the basis for academic research studies. A 1990 panel on his life, work, and influence was the first in a scholarly society in the nearly fifty years since his death. Yet there have been competent scholars who have studied the Cayce legacy carefully, and found (beneath the swirl of colorful oddities and expedient transactions that others have featured about him) a sophisticated, orderly, and profoundly ethical worldview, anchored in biblical faith.

They have also found a record of his truly helping thousands of people who sought his seemingly inspired counseling and consulting aid, not only in medical emergencies, but in dealing with the challenges of everyday life: suffering and success, sacrifice and service, integrity and compassion, community and study, love and loss, vocation and devotion to God. As a consequence, Richard Drummond, the able historian of religions and Presbyterian interpreter of Buddhism, answered a query about Cayce in Theology Today from Princeton Seminary's Seward Hiltner by writing an article on Cayce as a twentieth-century prophet, in the same journal, where he carefully linked Cayce, by specific criteria, to a very few others whom he felt deserved the same label, including Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Toyohiko Kagawa (1).

The enterprise of ranking and grouping historical figures is a perennial challenge to scholars. In this case the point is to decide how far to explore the way in which the work of Edgar Cayce may illuminate potentials in all of us, confirming the affirmation which he often made in all seriousness: "I don't do anything you can't do, if you are willing to pay the price." Given the extraordinary public record of his accomplishments in such areas as medicine, dream study, historical sketches, meditation practices, engineering, and guidance of many, many individuals through ethical and spiritual thickets, this affirmation seems worthy of thorough inquiry. However, finding the real Cayce beneath the overlays of two generations of followers since his death is not easy.

For my part, after studying Cayce at work for nearly a year, shortly before his death, and hearing some six hundred of his so-called "readings," later making Cayce the subject of my doctoral dissertation in the field of history of religions at the University of Chicago, I would suggest considerable incongruity between Cayce's own values and those of the major Cayce enterprise (there being minor ones as well) in Virginia Beach--the ARE, which operates a headquarters for a national membership program of people loosely connected by being drawn to the Cayce legacy. This center, which combines features of a museum, archive, publishing company, research base, Esalen-like programs, and evangelistic mission, exhibits patterns which appear to both represent and misrepresent Cayce, as we shall see.

The full Cayce legacy is fourfold:

(1) First there is the documented range and depth of his extraordinary counseling and consulting gifts, through which he offered assistance to individuals on a staggering array of subjects and judgments.

(2) Second, derived from these, is the corpus of transcribed texts from his counsel (tens of thousands of pages), indexed by subjects, which tends to crowd out study of the gifts because texts are always more manageable than real life, and because texts can be given quasi-revelatory status.

(3) Third, there is the man himself, seen with his intimates, as a noteworthy and complex bearer of an unusual calling in a culture that usually ignores but occasionally honors him.

(4) Fourth, there are the clusters of those followers or responders, organized or unorganized, who have answered his efforts with interest or passion since his first prayer-related memorializing experiences in boyhood a century ago. Their patterns and history are rarely discussed, although they will be examined in this paper.

All four of these strands affect each other in shaping the actual legacy, and must be kept in view together, if we would gain an accurate picture.

Still, despite its complexity, the inheritance of Cayce's life and work continues to grasp the imaginations of many, many thousands of people, inside and outside organizations proferring his name. Numbers of them, in the United States and abroad, faithfully practice prayer and meditation in disciplined lives committed to service and growth, joining in small study groups re-enforced by retreats and conferences. Taking up Cayce's example and teachings, they formulate and reformulate their noblest ideals, seek to conform themselves to the mind and spirit of the living Christ, study their dreams with daily journals, screen their passions and impulses, tame and elevate their wills, and try out daily disciplines or exercises that can lead to truly transformed lives. Some, though by no means all, visit prisons, or aid in the healing of the sick, while others take on foster children, as well as widows and orphans, the abused, the addicted, and the dying.

How their earnest efforts, and the nature of Cayce's stimulus to them, have so well eluded the attention of students of contemporary religious forms and groupings is the concern of this paper, where one barrier to inquiry--the inadequate description of Cayce as a psychic--is the subject.

Certainly there have been other barriers to the study of Cayce. He had no major mentors of the sort that term papers like to trace, except the people of the Bible, whose faith and activities so engaged him that he memorized most of this very long record (an astonishing accomplishment which I often verified) in the course of teaching the Bible to adults in church school for over fifty years.

He was not formally educated beyond grade school, though he used his good mind to become informed in many subjects; this unprofessionality of schooling tends to make him both an affront to scholars and sometimes a source of open envy (as I recently heard a physician confess).

His counsel was wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, not endearing him to one-sided specialists, and failing to generate a professionally-vested cadre of experts in his work (such as Freud or Jung developed, for example). He linked health and medicine, like the rest of life, to the numinous and the unseen, and stressed ethical dimensions in treatments and prevention--so that despite his many original and sophisticated treatment strategies, he has seemed to some to imperil science with the theological and perhaps even occult morass that Freud and others so dreaded.

In the face of sometimes staggering accomplishments, he was unable to prevent the collapse of the hospital and university founded under the stimulus of his work, suggesting something dubious somewhere in his efforts.

And while a deeply devout man and a faithful churchman, he came slowly to examine and use the framework of reincarnation/grace which spontaneously appeared in his trance counsel, even when this put him at odds with most of the major philosophers and theologians of the West except Plato (though we now know there were early Christians up through Origen who did the same, and that today one American or Britisher in four accepts some version of this outlook).

But it is the label of psychic which may most decisively obscure him from thoughtful students of religion, both by misdirecting inquiry about him, and by helping to generate an overlay of a following and a practice which have often veered from his own priorities and values.

There can be no question to knowledgable inquirers that Edgar Cayce did psychic things, in great variety, both awake and in trance; in the latter years of his life he gave up his profession of portrait photography to be paid very modestly for counseling and consulting which had an important psychic component. The documentation of his psychic efforts is compelling, and the study of his errors as well as his successes appears to reveal lawful processes, however limited our understanding of them. But that Cayce was a professional psychic (in the familiar sense of that category) is the issue. Describing him centrally as a psychic may be as inappropriate as calling an opera singer an athlete (of the vocal cords), and thereby suggesting that more of the same may best be found and studied in sports pages, locker rooms, and playing fields.

II. The category of "psychic" in contemporary usage

We use labels and categories in scholarship to give us precision and clarity. We test them for adequacy, balance, and integrity, by undertaking content analysis of relevant documents, and by direct observation and instrumentation. We try to correct for biases and stereotypes in our labels by using qualifying phrases, or synonymns and antonyms, or by making up or adapting nonprejudicial meta-labels.

And since science and scholarship are social enterprises involving grants, promotions, and entire careers, we also subtly use labels to indicate our perceived sense of potential (or lack of it) in a behavior, system of thought, grouping, or movement. As Melton and Moore have reminded us, for example, there is different baggage in the term "cult" and the term "new religious movement" to describe the same activity.

What a useful category must accomplish above all, after specificity and adequacy, is direct our attention to cognate phenomena ("pay dirt"). This effort is often most successful when the label fits into a comparative scheme with other labels, along lines of specified gradients and dynamics. Max Weber's construction and deployment of ideal types, used fruitfully in history of religions by Van der Leeuw (2), Wach (3), and others, is an example of such creative labeling. So is Jung's well-known construction and dynamic arrangement of eight ideal temperament types (congruent with the Hindu paths to God in the Gita), in various types of tension with each other (4). Such assignment of terms in a model or system does not obviate the need for empirical study, which may prove the labels inadequate or confused, but the effort at arrangement of types may offer illuminating contrasts and linkages.

What does the contemporary label of "psychic" offer us? It points to a general area of relatively strange, often-studied but still little-understood correlations and synchronistic meanings, producing (a) reliable knowledge without inspection or inference, and (b) reliable effects on physical systems, without familiar acts of inspection, manipulation, or instrumentation. Applied to a person, it indicates one who can produce, or who claims to produce, such effects. Laboratory studies have attempted to discriminate subjects and processes that generate telepathy and clairvoyance (not as easy to separate as one might think), as well as psychokinesis, and time-leaping variants such as precognition and retrocognition.

Wrapped around or supplanting these technical meanings of the term "psychic" are others which any student of contemporary culture could supply, often so striking as to blur or erase the core designations. From the media come intimations that psychic ability is typically enmeshed in situations of violence, greed, or deceit, and very possibly in the demonic. (Helpful little promptings or interventions in everyday life are not dramatic enough to supply television plots, although they have supplied some of the bases for M. Scott Peck's understanding of grace.) From psychology textbooks come antiseptic disclaimers of psychic effects as "not yet established," while the general lack of credit courses and degree tracks in the study of the psychic says yet more, as does the paucity of research funds.

At the recent 1990 meeting of the American Psychological Association, attended by 13,000 academics, researchers, and therapists, where hundreds and hundreds of papers were delivered, only one modest panel devoted to intuition hinted at the subject, and then not by name. Even the title of "parapsychology" for the discipline that studies the psychic proclaims an enterprise which is like unto--but not quite--psychology, and by implication may lack critical or methodological rigor. (Happily, that usage is giving way to the study of "psi-effects" as an area of psychological inquiry, subject to all the usual rules.)

Books on psychic processes or notable psychics (including Cayce) do not often show up in bookstores with volumes on health, self-improvement, psychology, or religion, but are shelved instead in "occult" or "New Age" sections with volumes on witchcraft, tarot cards, shifts of the earth's poles, astrology, UFO's, shamanic drumming, and the Shroud of Turin. What is inevitably suggested is that psychics, like the rest, abandon critical methods and judgment in favor of leaps of revelation, ancient or modern.

But for the purposes of this paper, one feature of the term "psychic" in particular is decisive: namely its suggestion of attention to power and powers, to prowess and skill, overshadowing attention to explicit values (whether ethical, aesthetic, truth-disclosing, or spiritual). To be sure, when a psychic counsels-- with or without divining apparatus--that one should marry a certain companion, seize a job opening, watch for a certain stock to go up, eat more vegetables, or wear certain colors to maximize one's aura, value judgments are made as to what is healthy, mature, socially productive, or beneficial for the soul. But these are usually presented as judgments somehow immediately given by the data in hand, as though there were no distinction between "is" and "ought."

Careful inquiry can sometimes disclose instead how far the advice mirrors the values of the psychic, and how far the values of the seeking person. Sometimes the psychic offers little essays on the benefits of kindness, persistence, balance, or some other presumed good. But the term "psychic" does not carry in common usage the expectation that one will demand a changed life or receive explicit tutoring regarding the good, the beautiful, the true, and the holy, as such. Instead, one expects to gain advantage from hidden data or patterns supplied, or from unseen influence and leverage exercised. The business at hand is power, not love nor loveliness nor ultimate truth.

What is often missing in a transaction called "psychic" is such themes as accountability to a larger tradition and community, transformation of personal values and priorities, sacrifice of self-interest, wholeness and integration of personhood, social justice and compassion, gratitude, celebration, and a balanced relationship to the divine. The services of a psychic, where employed with any significant social acceptance, are considered adequate (and worthy of pay) if relevant new information, or intervening new energies (in the case of healing, for example), are supplied.

Let me strongly affirm that I draw this distinction without any intent to devalue the labors of professional psychics. They do what they do, often at no small personal cost, and at times with life-saving consequences. It has been my privilege to study scores of them at first hand, sometimes in the company of some of the country's best parapsychologists, over a period of some fifty years, during which time I have both published in the field and taught it for academic credit. In the case of Arthur Ford (5), the respected American medium, and Peter Hurkos, the Dutch psychometrist transplanted to the U.S. (6), my exhaustive investigation of them lasted years apiece, accompanied by warm friendship. Less extensive but still useful and varied have been my studies of the medium and businesswoman, Eileen Garrett, the healer and aircraft company executive, Abrose Worrall (with his much-studied mediumistic wife Olga), and more than a dozen Spiritualist mediums at Lily Dale and in their various churches and societies. Around these are gathered in my files and in my memory various clairvoyants, channels, healers, astrologers, aura readers, and purveyors of karmic past-life teachings, from this country and in Europe.

While most of them have held distinct worldviews, and espoused values congruent with these, their psychic services have in essence been technological. But it is precisely the opposite--subordination of information and assistance to sharing and evoking life-transforming values--that marks Cayce's effort, day in and day out. In writing a biography of him (7), I have called his work "love surprised by wisdom," not the reverse, and supplied the evidence. His was not simply data given in a loving manner, but a sophisticated engagement of one person at a time, using that person's own values and stretching them toward a new personhood in relation to God--within which relevant data were imparted.

Using Jungian language, one might say that Cayce's voice--awake or in trance--seeks to become the voice of the individual's Self. In theological language, he explicitly tries to speak with and for the person's own soul, intent on bringing it into alignment with the nature and energy of the universal Christ. There are Cayce readings, to be sure, where drastic concerns of health or other emergencies strip away all but swift factual information; here love is shared by the doing, not by teaching or poetic evocation. But even the medical counsel, which forms such a large part of his preserved though partial corpus of 14,000 counseling transcripts, typically carries ethical and devotional material developed in sensitive encounter, in as many as two-thirds of the cases I encountered in one sample. In other counsel the proportion is far higher.

To use Buber's language, Cayce's recorded counsel (very much like that in his letters, as well as in the accounts of those who went to him for guidance quite apart from his trance) has a large component of I-thou, in which I-it finds a place that expresses the respect and transformative regard of the primary encounter (8). That this was no accident may be seen in the admonition so often found in one version or another in the Cayce transcripts: "Until you can see in each person you meet, though in error that person may be, that which you would worship as your Lord, you have not begun to think and act aright." It would be difficult to overstate the congruence with Buber here. That the intent is not just sentimentality may be noted in another, less frequent admonition: "So love that you may look any in the eye and tell them where to go."

Careful inquiry suggests that with Cayce we are moving in a different mode of engagement than in typical psychic counsel. It is engagement that easily incorporates psychic processes, but is so fraught with the sharing of goodness, truth, beauty, and holiness--and how these are to be found and cultivated--that one must look to poets, psalmists, philosophers, theologians, mystics, and other visionaries to find adequate parallels.

To label Cayce a psychic, then, is to lose him. We will not understand him better, replicate him, or improve on him by gathering him with traditional mediums, soothsayers, card-readers, omen interpreters, prognosticators, or astrologers. The decisive function of a suitable label, to point toward truly cognate phenomena and to suggest deployment of related types for empirical study, is betrayed by such a usage.

III. Terms and types for Cayce: a brief historical sketch

A. Cayce's own terms

Perhaps not surprisingly, in light of the distinctions just drawn, Cayce did not often or centrally describe himself as a psychic. To be sure, his father and associates, caught up in a wave of publicity and temptations to pretentiousness, placed the title "psychic diagnostician" (incorrectly joined by the signmaker to the wrong name of "Edgar Cayce, Jr.") on the door of a room where Edgar once gave readings. It was across the hall from his photographic studio, during a period of his early manhood in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which ended in disaster because the father and his colleagues systematically lied to the son and misused him for profit while he was in trance.

Years later, when Cayce's secretary, Gladys Davis, began to index transcripts of his counsel (noting the age, religion, and occupation of each applicant), she picked up the title of "psychic diagnostician" and used it for readings which Cayce gave on himself. And when Cayce's eldest son, Hugh Lynn, organized the affairs of the ARE not long after its founding in 1931, he saw to it that Cayce's counsel was sought and received in a "psychic reading" as a research effort to understand the potential of the psychic area, preventing Cayce from being legally accused of practicing medicine without a license.

Cayce went along with all of this, but there is no evidence of his committed, enthusiastic use of the term "psychic" for his activities. He was too much a biblical man, who saw his helpfulness as a gift from beyond himself, not as independent prowess. His way of talking about his giving of readings, as I often heard, was to speak of "the thing I do" or "how I might be helpful." Or he referred to "the information" of his trances, not only as data but as agency. This was a usage born of profound modesty, not the usage which has since developed in promoting Cayce publications, where it is suggested that "information" from Cayce is tested material upon which the purchaser may safely rely.

Certainly Cayce knew a great deal about psychic experiences in all its varieties, and about psychics, who came to him often for guidance and counsel about their experiences and labors. He was an intelligent man, full of desire to understand what he was able to do, while yet crediting the final agency to the divine. So he listened to countless stories of psychic happenings, from visions and promptings to obsessions and hauntings, matching them with his own rich array of spontaneous and cultivated experiences that transcended ordinary sensorimotor processes. He evaluated what he heard, and often felt he saw inwardly, by biblical norms that featured what glorified God, not paraded accomplishments.

Despite the richness of his experience of what is today called the paranormal, his own accounts of his life and abilities, in two memoirs (one more intimate than the other) and in a booklet for inquirers called Edgar Cayce: His Life and Work (9), did not feature the category of psychic, even while recounting many telling cases of his aid. The same reticence over the term appears in his letters, where he also speaks--as in the memoirs--of counseling by acting on a "promise" that he could help others, given to him in a religious experience of his youth.

During the days of his hospital, some of his lectures did refer to various psychic processes, in the context of faith life, as part of a Sunday afternoon forum where his remarks were reported verbatim in a local paper. But here, too, he emphasized the necessity of relying on scriptural promises and on the loving presence of Christ, rather than on unique personal powers.

When he taught at church school, as I heard him do repeatedly, he did not urge people to cultivate psychic prowess. He did urge love and service, guided by prayer and heartfelt devotion to God. In that context, he felt that worthwhile experiences of guidance, healing, and empowerment would occur naturally, a thought which he illustrated with telling biblical references.

Although he could have recruited and even trained psychics from among the scores of specially endowed people who turned to him for guidance, his biography shows clearly that he recruited instead medical missionaries for overseas service--as many as eighty from Alabama alone, by one count. In his nurture of those he drew to altruistic careers from every church where he taught, he included coaching to pray faithfully and hopefully, as his letters show. That his recruits could expect guidance and aid leaping beyond sensorimotor processes seemed to him obvious, both from biblical accounts and from witnesses in the church life which so engrossed him, whether everyday preachers and evangelists and ministers, or his boyhood friend, Dwight L. Moody.

It is difficult to find in the term "psychic" a profile of such priorities and understandings. Historically, the term has carried a strong connotation of mediumship or channeling for some other intelligence, "entity," or "spirit." All his life Cayce denied that what he did in trance, or experienced in elevated times of guidance or in memorable dreams, was the product of mediumism. He had no doubt that individuals could have familiar spirits and be taught by these--for he was convinced he saw them. But his deep conviction, echoed in scores of readings, was that any form of automatism or dissociation to yield to another personality was inferior to inspired creation, sought in relation to God and for the service of others--and indeed could be profoundly dangerous to mental health.

Although many who have not carefully studied his work have suggested that he must somehow have been a medium for one or more discarnates, the weight of evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, a constant hazard to his work, as he saw it, was the preoccupation of seekers for aid in the 1920's and 1930's with the notion that anything psychic had to be mediumistic. He asked people to pray and meditate when receiving his counsel, so that he could not stumble over unwanted discarnate relatives from whom they might want to hear. Occasionally individuals who died did appear to break into his counsel with messages, and the contrast with his usual trance efforts was pronounced. Insofar as the core meaning of "psychic," then--both in contemporary life and in the long history of divination and shamanism, as well as in witchcraft--is communication with the dead, the term serves poorly as a label for Cayce.

To be sure, he was drawn into the ebulliance of the principal donors for his hospital and university, the Blumenthal brothers (especially Morton), who were fascinated with the possibility of survival of bodily death, and with commucation with discarnates or "entities," in the style of the psychical research of the day. When they and their associates proposed a sweeping agenda of psychical inquiry (not limited to mediumism, by any means) for the Association of National Investigators--including building the hospital he had long wanted, and then creating a credible university staffed with faculty interested in the psychic area--he went along in high hopes. But his bent was always biblical, and his inner dynamics grounded in a promise from the divine. He saw as grace and God's faithfulness what others saw as powers to be mastered.

From the early days of his counseling he used the term "reading" for his trance efforts, drawing on the usages available in popular Southern culture. It was a misnomer, pointing to the interpretation of divining aids such as tea leaves, cards, palms, sticks, and omens or signs which a psychic might "read." (His Campbellite church circles lacked elaboration of New Testament "discernment" or states of being "in the Spirit.") He was in fact no diviner, using no apparatus at all, but only his naked consciousness brought in hope and modesty to someone's need, under what he saw as the sunlight of divine care and wisdom.

Insofar as the terms "psychic" and "psychic reading" are linked to a long cross-cultural history of divination with equipment and portents, they misrepresent Cayce. For his part, he thought (as he told me) in biblical terms of being filled with, or overshadowed by, the Holy Spirit as the basis for his unusual counsel.

B. Hugh Lynn Cayce's terms for his father's work

As early as 1929, when the Cayce Hospital for Research and Enlightment flourished, Edgar's eldest son Hugh Lynn functioned as an intepreter of his father's work. At this time, with his college classmate Thomas Sugrue, he helped to create a Cayce magazine, The New Tomorrow, while they were on summer vacation.

in 1931, after the hospital backers fell out with each other, and the hospital and university closed, a new organization was formed by Cayce's friends as a vehicle for his efforts, and especially to protect him legally from lawsuits or jail (which he experienced briefly and heartbreakingly in both New York and Detroit). The new organization was named the Association for Research and Enlightment, after the hospital. When the effort to find a satisfactory executive proved difficult after successive tries, Hugh Lynn (who had just graduated from college) was finally chosen as manager. He retained that role until not many years before his death in 1982, when he became chairman of the board and passed on (with the support of the board) what had become the role of president to his son, Charles Thomas Cayce.

In the thirteen years from the founding of the ARE to Cayce's death, and then in thirty-seven years after that (making a half century of leadership), the decisive voice shaping how Cayce was to be seen in contemporary culture was that of Hugh Lynn.

He lectured endlessly all across the country, in annual circuits that stretched to more than seventy-five cities; wrote articles, books, and booklets; recruited authors and lecturers; fostered whatever research was undertaken on leads from his father's work; nurtured the ARE Clinic in Phoenix as a place to apply Cayce-oriented medical treatments and physiology; developed and administered a summer program of twenty-two weeks of conferences at Virginia Beach; built up a complete ARE Press; led the construction of an impressive library and conference building; founded a modest summer camp; and cultivated a sponsoring and subscribing membership that numbered in the tens of thousands. At the same time, he exercised a kind of pastoral care and spiritual direction for hundreds of people all across the country (including myself, I should add) who felt that he knew them intimately, and who found in him an inspired teacher of both psychological wisdom and spiritual depth.

Having majored in psychology at Washington & Lee, he recruited his chief professor, Dr. William Mosely Brown, to be the first president of Atlantic University, and continued all his life to recruit what professional people he could--and a few academics--to the task of studying and using the Cayce legacy. Yet when faced with a crucial vocational choice after returning home in 1945 from service in World War II, with his father and mother recently dead, he decided against graduate study and the career in parapsychology which beckoned to him, in order to develop instead the ARE and its influence on contemporary culture. He would, as he told me, "make the name of Cayce known everywhere." The vehicle he chose for that ambitious project was to present his father as the best-documented and most richly-endowed psychic in history.

Where Edgar had practiced profound modesty, refusing to promote or advertise his work but helping others to use it effectively in their own callings, Hugh Lynn was not so constrained. A loyal (though often distracted) Presbyterian deacon and Sunday school teacher, he found it easy to take up the spirit of evangelism which the Southern church so widely espoused (eventually to be embodied at Virginia Beach in the television-based empire of Pat Robertson), but to do it on behalf of Cayce, whom he saw as a modern servant of Christ.

He was inclined by temperament and education to psychology, in which he read few journals (except in parapsychology) but a reasonable number of thoughtful popular works. He found the emerging leadership of Humanistic psychology (and later of Transpersonal psychology) to be congenial enough to prompt him to draw a number of its major figures to speak at conferences he organized for national lay enrollment at Virginia Beach. In addition, he recruited two psychologists to become his leading colleagues and spokespersons in ARE publishing and lecturing: Dr. Herbert Puryear and Dr. Mark Thurston. When it came time to begin passing administration on to someone else, he chose yet another psychologist, his son, Dr. Charles Thomas Cayce.

More of a naturalist than an academic or a clinician in psychology, Hugh Lynn was always drawn to the psychic area and to psychics, even defining the ARE as a psychic research organization despite the fact that its programs and publications were more heavily oriented toward self-help, medical, archaeological, philosophical, religious, or "spiritual" subjects. Early in his career he ran a radio show on psychic experiences in New York, and negotiated contacts between his father and the three reigning leaders of parapsychology in the country: Gardner Murphy at Columbia, J.B. Rhine at Duke, and Eileen Garrett of the Parapsychology Foundation in New York. Having a wealth of credible psychic experiences of his own in dreams, prayer, and elsewhere, he delighted in quietly counseling budding or established psychics, and took on cases of possession or haunting.

Yet his final priority was spiritual evangelism, under the banner of stimulating people to discover their full potential with God. So he kept the focus in his work and his organization strictly on Cayce (though that priority was implicit), rarely inviting other psychics to his programs or conducting research on them. True to American popular culture, he developed instead a trademarked Cayce product--a superlative psychic--and sought to saturate the popular market with it. In his mind, as I have pointed out in a review of his life, when he said "Cayce" he intended "the Christ," not by confusing the two, but by emphasizing practices and teachings which he felt could lead from one to the other.

Today we might associate his interest with Transpersonal psychology (which has become the focus of the modest and nonaccredited masters program at Atlantic University, which he helped to resurrect). He called it "psychical research," wanting a corner of intellectual life where he could claim roots and colleagues without paying a heavy price of scholarship and research, or coming into doctrinal controversies. Yet his actual dominant themes in publishing and lecturing were often broader: meditation, the chakras in kundalini yoga, reincarnation, dream study, the psychology of fear, and the life of Jesus (he did not draw on New Testament scholarship). Joined to these in helpful counterpoint were themes of spirituality which came to him naturally, keeping his gospel from becoming too arcane: forgiveness, prayer, service, devotion to Christ, participation in small groups of seekers.

Hugh Lynn's fifty years of sustained effort firmly established the label of "psychic" for his father. He was not averse to thinking privately about Edgar in the religious categories which his father and the readings had used, but he stumbled over the vast indifference of religious experts, whether pastors or theologians or counselors, to what Hugh Lynn considered an important part of God's work in modern times.

And he wanted his product to be kept clear of doctrinal tangles, asserting often that people of highly diverse religious traditions, Eastern and Western, had all found high value and no affront in the Cayce legacy (and ignoring the obvious question of the superficiality of engagement implicit in such an affirmation). His dream was that he could remake the concept of the psychic in popular culture, to carry centrally the etymological meaning assigned to it often in his father's readings: "of the soul." He sought a spirituality that could be--because it was psychic--scientific and psychological, capable of bypassing ancient loyalties and conflicting traditions, and encouraging modern seekers to new depths and disciplines.

Major consequences of his determination to present Cayce as a remarkable psychic soon emerged. Some of them inevitably distorted the realities of Cayce's life, work, and thought.

Early on Hugh Lynn felt he had to seek allies among others open to ESP, meditation, and reincarnation as normal parts of human experience. He found these in Theosophy and Alice Bailey's Arcane School, and lectured at times in their halls around the country. He found them in New Thought, where churches of Unity, Divine Science, and Religious Science added to convictions like his a measure of devotional warmth more congenial to his own Southern churchmanship. He found leaders he could recruit for his board and staff from the ranks of the Rosicrucians, where they had learned esoteric disciplines, the cultivation of secret powers, and the model of a teaching reserved for initiates.

Slowly he began using such terms as "metaphysical" to suggest a worldview not always close to his father's faith or readings, insofar as it suggested esoteric laws and principles to be mastered for spiritual ends, rather than intimate companionship with a loving Father and the Elder Brother in a religious community and tradition. But in all these circles the image of a psychic was welcome, as it was not in the mainline churches.

He paid a further price, in that he and his associated drifted away from the critical methods of inquiry, and testing by individual application, so strongly enjoined in the Cayce readings, where people were warned never to present truths "on authority" of their trance origins. The lure of both private and self-authenticating authority--even revelations--in the new alliances grew stronger, drawing people who wanted systematic answers from an inspired source, in a kind of Cayce canon and Cayce doctrine. The dynamics soon emerged for a Cayce cult (insofar as claiming private, self-validating authority can be used as a hallmark of a cult), despite the severe warnings in the readings against having Cayce and his work become the basis for any kind of sect, schism, or ism.

Cayce became for thousands the framework for alternative spirituality in which accountability to biblical faith and church tradition was jettisoned, or patronized as Cayce's private limitation. In later years, after Hugh Lynn's death, the preoccupation with what William James called "roots" over "fruits" led many Cayce people to leap for a Vedantist version of Christian faith in the books and groups of a work presented as dictated by Christ, A Course In Miracles. Others undertook to find their own "channel" of higher beings, who would provide them with the guidance and stimulus that Cayce in trance reportedly gave to his contemporaries. Cayce's strictures against automatism and mediumship became easily lost, and after Hugh Lynn's death mediums popped up in ARE programs, as implicitly normative for Cayce-tuned searchers.

At the same time, because the one called a psychic is so easily seen as the neglected and rejected outsider, a bearer of information in a time bent on its own ends, Cayce became a rallying place for strong-minded but often anomic persons, finding a spiritual posture in anti-institutionalism and even anti-intellectualism, as well as spiritual syncretism. Hugh Lynn and his associates took this flood of hungry but frequently rootless seekers (especially evident in the counterculture of the 1960's) as an opportunity for evangelism, making the ARE and the Cayce legacy bearers of spiritual hope and interest to those who found churches and synagogues boring, pretentious, or cruel.

In the Sun Belt where the ARE often flourished (drawing leaders especially from Texas, Arizona, and California), the strident hostility of many conservative and fundamentalist leaders to things psychic, not to mention towards reincarnation, created a population which had been warmed in faith and spiritual hunger by childhood Sunday school but alienated by a narrow adult church life. Hugh Lynn and his associates addressed these people with vigor and originality, even though the price was stripping the Cayce effort away from its deep biblical roots, so evident in Cayce's own life and in those of his close associates, as also in the texts of thousands of readings, and in the devotional manual created anonymously by Edgar and his intimates entitled A Search For God (10).

These consequences of presenting Cayce so relentlessly as a psychic were soon joined by another: His work and thought became increasingly perceived in the spirit of one aspect of modernity which is often cited by historians and social critics, namely an emphasis on technology and technique.

The emerging culture of automobiles and TV, with its shopping mall shrines, Disneyland entertainment, and waterbed comfort, began to assimilate Cayce to its patterns, especially in circles of the middle class. (Cayce as a psychic has never flourished among the poor or minorities, despite the readings' ardent demands for social justice.) Publications and conferences about Cayce's work and thought used more and more labels such as "powers," "miracles," and "answers." His sophisticated approach to dream interpretation--which has stimulated publishing that has brought Cayce more scholarly acceptance than any other subject--has nevertheless prompted several authors to produce versions of dream dictionaries, where dreams could become a "magic mirror" of the person.

"How to" and "made easy" books and tapes on meditation, diet, health care, and past-life recall increasingly presented transactions in which people could engage, without having to encounter the deeper foundations of Cayce's thought and values. Benefits of prosperity, health, influence, and popularity were touted for programs which did not mention any need for transformed selfhood. Publications of ARE Press uniformly carried insert cards which in time featured soul mates and pyramids along with ESP and other interests, but made no mention of service, changed lives, social justice, or commitments to small groups and spiritual community--although all of these are decisive themes in the Cayce corpus. Cayce the psychic became the proponent of techniques, an emphasis which inevitably trivialized his legacy.

One way to see the change is to take a phrase often cited as central to the worldview in the Cayce materials and see what has become of it. He said, often and pivotally, "Spirit is the life, mind is the builder, and the physical is the result." In practice, the focus in later decades came to be chiefly on one part of this framework: mysteries and powers of the mind, as fitting for a technique-oriented culture. From these all manner of benefits in circumstance could be expected to flow.

One of the ARE's leading spokespersons, for example, lectures widely on "Mysteries of the Mind," and has fostered a series of popular New Age books with a similar focus--believing that the hook of technique and wonder would somehow lead to life-transforming depth and discipline. The Spirit, as unshakably foundational to the Cayce formula, got a notice in such offerings, in charts of personal ideals, supported by daily meditation on appealing affirmations. But the great historical themes of spirituality such as worship, thanksgiving, confession, covenants, social justice, forgiveness, service, cleansing of the will, study and metanoia often slid all to easily into the background.

The transcendence of the divine tended to be swallowed up in an immanent Christ-consciousness. The necessity of a definite spiritual community and tradition, to which one should become accountable, was often abandoned. Cayce, the earnest and devout Bible student and churchman, became a stranger in Cayce-land, where technique, technology of the mind, and American know-how dominated and found hundreds of thousands of buyers.

There have always been exceptions to this mechanizing and trivializing of the Cayce legacy. Dr. Mark Thurston's seminal work on the soul (11) and on Cayce's view of the will (12), and Professor Richard Drummond's rich view of Jesus as seen from the Cayce records (13), for example, have looked decisively in the other direction. So has the careful and original research and publishing of Eric Mein, M.D (14). and his small Meridian Institute. The ARE Camp has tried to share with youth a balanced outlook reflective of the full Cayce legacy. But the net effect of presenting Cayce as a superlative psychic has been to emphasize methods and powers, at the expense of Cayce's own worldview and its compelling values.

One more consequence of the mislabelling of Cayce stands out in the history of efforts and interests associated with his name: commercialization. The drift into a Cayce cult with private authority, the featuring of an outsider posture, and the technicizing of his legacy, all have served to alienate the Cayce movement from mainstream philanthropy, and from recruitment of talented graduate students and professionals. To keep the evangelism going, and to pay for a large plant and staff, other income had to be found. The decision was made not long after Hugh Lynn's death to go to the opposite extreme from Cayce's own reserve, and jump into mass marketing by mail.

Each year lists of names were bought commercially (running into the millions) and chatty promotional letters sent out with all the zingers of skilled advertising: bonuses, supposedly personalized selections of readings, names of famous people, cut-rate offers, etc. Claims were uniformly made about Cayce that went far beyond any he made for himself (I once reconstructed and shared one of these pitch letters as though written by Cayce himself; the scandal of the distortion was obvious.) Thousands responded to these slick appeals, although many more thousands did not. But the interest, as measured by membership, was often limited, with as many as half or more of the new buyers gone within two or three years.

To keep their interest as long as possible, and to stimulate more, it became expedient to feature books, speakers, tapes, and articles which capitalized heavily on novelty and colorfulness. A thoughtful book on the Bible (or the Koran), for example, might have to yield its place in the ARE bookstore or mail-order catalogue to a book by a channeler. UFO's, pole shifts, near-death experiences, self-hypnosis, and speculations about Atlantis often crowded out attention to a balanced, wholesome life. The ordinary mysteries of loving in families, of meeting the challenges in the life span, of faithful and productive work, of serious gender questions, or of psychoanalytic insights, sold poorly to a mass-marketed constituency.

At one point a million dollars was raised from members for "controlled, objective research" on astrology. Members purchased horoscopes supplied from commercial sources having nothing to do with Cayce. Relatively little of the money thus acquired was spent on anything like the touted research. Cayce the spokesperson for rich values was crowded out in the commercial and evangelistic pressure to catch the next wave, the next trend, the next cutting edge in the New Age.

Not all of these developments can be blamed on the use of the "psychic" label, of course. The strategic patterns come from American business, and from certain sectors of American church life. But the presentation of Cayce as a psychic revealer of "inside dope" from a privileged position, and the source of quick techniques for immediate self-betterment (cut off from ancient and demanding spiritual roots), has made the assimilation easier.

C. Contrasts: The 1940's versus the 1990's

In the years just prior to his death, Cayce had essentially two vehicles for three characteristic activities.

1. Vehicles

One vehicle was the church, not only the local Presbyterian congregation where he both worshipped and taught adult classes, but the larger, translocal church where since early manhood he had repeatedly been a church school teacher in four states, a Christian Endeavor leader, and a coach of medical missionaries.

In this larger church he was at home with both the Roman Catholic efforts of the respected literary critic and essayist, Thomas Sugrue (15) and his colleagues (Sugrue's small book, A Catholic Speaks His Mind, was representative of the thinking in the U.S. that helped lead to Vatican II), and with such vigorous Protestant leaders and authors--all deeply interested in prayer--as Sherwood Eddy of the International YMCA (16), Margueritte Bro (editor of the Congregational magazine Social Action, later a religion editor for Harper & Row) (17), and Louis Eggleston, who was associated with Glenn Clark's Camps Farthest Out movement.

The other vehicle was the ARE, which he created not only to make his counseling legally safe but also to foster a limited amount of education and publishing, as well as exploratory research in areas where his readings seemed to experts to be capable of making original contributions. There were about 2000 members when he died, most of them merely interested users of his counseling and consulting service. But perhaps 200 were seriously interested in his work and willing to act on its behalf, in their own lives and if necessary in the organization. Most of these, and certainly his closest asociates in the Tidewater area of Virginia, were active in churches or synagogues.

There was no reason for Cayce to expect that the ARE would ever function in any way but as auxilliary to mainstream religious life. But by the 1990's the interface between the two vehicles had essentially disappeared. Part of the responsibility must surely lie with church leadership and church scholarship, which have not found an interest in Cayce as a psychic congenial or even interesting, and have not seen him in any alternative category. Indeed, Pat Robertson and his national Christian Broadcasting Network (based in Virginia Beach) routinely excoriate interest in Cayce as of the devil.

At the same time, the ARE has become an alternative locus of spirituality for church-alienated or church-disappointed adults (many are ex-Roman Catholics, but many have no roots in spiritual communities), who have chosen instead of worship and preaching, with sacraments and service, the central devotional act of meditation; and have welcomed the opportunity to read and discuss widely, in a fashion not often found outside Unitarian or other liberal churches and synagogues. Social concerns of peace, justice, gender, the homeless, and the environment mean relatively little to this constituency, a fact which contributes to their estrangement from churches. Intergenerational sharing is limited or nonexistent, except at a summer camp.

For the relatively small Cayce minority who have found participation in an ongoing spiritual community necessary, small groups not accountable to any larger tradition than Cayce have become the norm, although one investigation has shown that as many as 53 percent of study group members may relate in some way to Unity and other churches (18). Top ARE leaders and editors tend to be either church-disaffected or only nominally related to the larger religious world, giving their primary loyalties to psychology, philosophy, journalism, and New Age pursuits.

2. Activities

The three activities in which Cayce engaged through his two vehicles during the last years of his life, both in trance and out, may be seen as an inverted triangle with the following points:

(a) Transformative growth.

Basic to the rest of the triangle, this point was concerned with a transformative way of life, holistic in its care for the health of body and mind, and above all determined on growth in grace to glorify God. This included building a better world through institutions as well as individual lives.

The last dozen years of Cayce's life, after the loss of his hospital, were marked especially by his fostering the creation of a model devotional manual of disciplined steps Godward in the small group context. (There is no reason to think he expected this would be the last such manual developed in circles responsive to his work, nor the only such group.) He also taught weekly in his church, led an additional weekly Bible class in his home, and participated in a healing prayer group which had been stimulated by the readings. In short, Cayce was a church-grounded activist in the way that the label of "psychic" does not usually suggest.

Further, through appointments in his office, and through a taxing correspondence that stretched around the world, as well as through a stream of daily phone calls, he served as a spiritual advisor and guide to many--as have scores of active mystics before him. Although he no longer sought to build a hospital and university, he wanted to see such vehicles created and encouraged those who sought them (as he did creative publishers, radio producers, idealistic business executives, and government officials). The ARE Bulletin, like the monographs which accompanied it, and a small digest called This Week's Readings were meant to coach and equip the serious seekers drawn to him, as were an annual Congress of members, and occasional lectures he gave in New York and Washington (as he had done elsewhere in so many major American cities over the course of a busy life).

(b) Service of the needy.

Flowing from this basic activity, and expressing the love at its core, was another corner of the triangle: vigorous service. The hallmark of it was the giving of readings for those in medical extremity. Typically, people came or wrote for Cayce's unlikely aid only after exhausting other avenues. His home and adjoining offices and library were in many ways a clinic, in touch not only with sufferers all over the country and abroad, but with the physicians who cared for them (or refused to care for them as Cayce suggested). On some busy days I found myself thinking that all that lacked to make his activities a medical center were white coats and the smell of antiseptics.

Letters, phone calls, and visits, as well as the bulk of daily readings, were dominated by this crucial medical effort ("medical" in a holistic and spiritual vein that was explicitly life-transformative), and when Cayce went away from home, he went in part to confer with interested physicians (as I saw for myself in New York). Stamping this effort as authentic was Sugrue's stay in the Cayce home for two years, as someone desperately crippled by arthritis. He received unflagging massages, baths, and special diets from the Cayce family until he finally recovered the use of his legs and returned to his literary career. The Cayce hospital might have disappeared, but the healing activity had not.

Was this endlessly taxing care for medical emergencies and hardship cases merely an accident of Cayce's interests and skills? Or was it crucial to the very flow of guidance and far-reaching wisdom which came through him, given--as he believed--by a God who blessed much those who loved greatly? Cayce's inheritors and followers judged that the medical focus was incidental. When they raised money and bought back the hospital building which once housed Cayce's medical work, they did not dedicate it to the service of crippled or deaf children, or some other category of sufferers, as might have been expected. Instead they made it an office and conference building for conducting education, publishing, and other largely evangelistic efforts about a celebrated psychic. While some support was given to an independent medical clinic in Arizona bearing the ARE name and using Cayce remedies, the aid was limited financially and frought with rivalry tensions; it was not strong or organic enough to prevent the sad breakup of the clinic leadership and the dissolution of its research center (after a promising start with a two million dollar grant from a foundation).

Cayce at the end of his life, overwhelmed by demands for aid that flowed from the publication of his biography, did less in service to convicts than in earlier years of his weekly jail visits. But his correspondence with those he sponsored remained lively. So did his letter-writing to the many medical missionaries he had sponsored and recruited. True to the faith life he learned early and late in churches, he saw service to those in need as absolutely essential to the covenant with God that gave him his special prayer-related abilities.

By contrast, the Cayce effort fifty years later has identified itself with psychic abilities and disclosures, in an explicitly New Age posture that encourages individuals to do good works, including telling convicts about Cayce, but feels little constraint to make service of the needy decisive. Contrast this with the efforts of Vedantist spokesperson Ram Dass and his Seva Foundation (19).

(c) Empowering of professionals and academics

Here was the third point of the triangle. In Cayce's biblical view of worthwhile social change, lasting transformation of society might come slowly, but it would be inevitable due to those faithful to God and active on His behalf. Cayce found in a crucial formula from the readings a pattern to which he could wholeheartedly subscribe: "First to the individual, then to the group, then to the classes, then to the masses."

The design was in a way his answer to Marxism, but it was also an answer to the American hunger for media-promotion, glamour, and mass effects. As with A.A., the idea was to develop activities and understandings with which individuals could wrestle personally and in small groups. Out of this contining individual and group effort--never discarded or left behind--could be expected leaders of professions and other social sectors, such as minorities and other social movements ("classes"). These would bring new patterns into institution, still practicing themselves what they taught. In time this would effect mass change, shaping the artifacts, architecture, schedules, language, priorities, and enduring values of daily life.

Given this framework, Cayce all his life held himself accountable to responsible interested professionals and academic persons. These activities ranged from his early encounter with the psychologist Hugo Muensterberg of Harvard, and the physicians and faculty of Bowling Green, Kentucky, to the faculty of his own Atlantic University, and his lasting and close association with such physicians as Harold Reilly (20) in New York. He did not approach these leaders in the "classes" as validators for his psychic wonders, but simply responded helpfully to them when asked, as necessary partners in social change (such as new directions in medicine, which would later be called "holistic"). He did the same with authors, editors and publishers, as well as engineers and scientists, educators and church leaders, and even leaders in government. (U.S. vice president Henry Wallace, for example, sought readings from him on leadership in wartime China--counsel not given because Cayce's death intervened.)

His idea, which the readings strongly endorsed, was that he and his associates should prepare data from the readings and even do initial research. But any effort to reach the masses should be left to the activities of qualified professionals and experts, in their own vocations and institutions. He did not advertise, promote, or publicize his work. Indeed, in a reading the present writer heard a warning which proved to be Cayce's last public discourse on his own efforts and organization: "Do not even expose this work, to those who do not of themselves seek same."

By contrast, the Cayce effort of the 1990's relies heavily on just such exposure, in mass marketing by mail, and in programs and publications tailored to mass consumption. Scholarly and academic efforts are few. An evangelistic fervor to "get out the word" from an important psychic (on many topics) drives the effort, creating a considerable publishing empire, enriched by conferences.

In 1990 Atlantic University was revived on a very small scale, but given little funding compared to the outreach effort. Licensed but not regionally accredited, it grants one degree, a masters degree in Transpersonal Studies. For years it did not have its own board, full-time president, or fund-raising activity, and its faculty (all part-time until recently) had little authority. Still the students, like those in the Reilly school's massotherapy training program, are eager and dedicated. If the Cayce label and effort are ever to be changed, AU (which split with the ARE in 1997) may be crucial to redirecting energies, ideas, funds, and talent because in order to survive, it must practice accountability to academic standards and critical methods.

In addition, there have been modest but promising research projects under the ARE's capable research director, Dr. Douglas Richards (a psychologist), and an annual parapsychology conference where papers are read. But these efforts are given tenuous funding and equipment compared to the expenditures on reaching the masses.

How has this overall shift in emphases come about?

(d) Mass marketing / evangelism as a fourth activity

Cayce did none of this. But within a few months of his death, a high-powered New Jersey promoter, Matthew Kurz, showed up at Virginia Beach for a crucial board meeting and proceeded to "organize" the effort for outreach along business and advertising lines, including developing a new Cayce-oriented publishing company. Returning from overseas military service, Hugh Lynn (having decided upon the promotion of Cayce as a psychic) found this kind of outreach thinking congenial, and in effect soon added a fourth dimension to the three which had engaged his father. Lecturing all over the country with great energy, developing a series of periodicals, booklets, and books designed to catch wide readership, and promoting membership, he set in motion an expression of his father's work which has nearly swallowed up the rest.

With respect to life-transforming growth, as foundational to his father's efforts, Hugh Lynn was committed to study, sharing, and meditating in disciplined small groups (which he saw as the natural successor to his father's readings) as a means of enriching and ennobling lives. Often he made it clear that nobody who responded seriously to his father's work should bypass this kind of activity.

But his insistence on the psychic image for his father, with the consequences we have seen, cut the groups off from the larger support and balance in church and other religious life, and after his death the vitality of the effort dwindled (though by no means disappeared). Today one buys a Cayce publication, or attends a major Cayce program, chiefly to participate in a New Age "awakening" where Cayce's primary emphasis on disciplined personal and social growth abd transformation tends to be an interesting option, but not necessarily more.

With respect to service of the needy, the second activity in his father's triangle, Hugh Lynn certainly wanted every possible medical lead from his father's readings used by researchers and practitioners. But the labor of professional reading, professional conferences, and recruitment of professional helpers daunted him. He plunged ahead instead to popularize truths from a distinguished psychic, unwilling to wait for experts to seek him out, just as he did in such non-medical areas as psychology (e.g. dreams), history (Atlantis, ancient Egypt), religion (biblical secrets), and philosophy (karma). Whether this was justifiable boldness, bringing treasures to a weary and fragmented age, or finally lack of faith in the slow but steady processes his father trusted, history will judge. In any case, the resultant contrast in activities and priorities, over half a century since Cayce's death, has been immense.

Partly this came from a growing perception of the ARE as a commercial enterprise, thus weakening or vitiating the philanthropy necessary for medical service, or for equipping and empowering professionals and academic people alike. But at a more practical level an additional barrier was created when, twenty years after his father's death, Hugh Lynn arranged for the fourteen thousand transcripts of his father's readings to be copyrighted and tightly controlled. From then on, even scholars would have to pay a tariff in order to cite Cayce's work--up to 75 percent of royalties in books, as Hugh Lynn's biographer has noted. The act of copyrighting work by a person who did not seek that status in his lifetime, and gave away copies of much of his work without restriction, is illegal, as a form of copyright attorneys has pointed out in an expensive brief. But perhaps more important than the act itself (which has not yet been reversed) was the perspective on carefully-managed evangelism which the step disclosed.

Cayce saw his readings (not unlike the way he saw the photographic portraits which provided his living for half of his adult life) as joint creations of himself, the seeker, helpers around him, and the living Spirit. He made no effort at all to copyright them, and there was no indication in the readings that he should. But his successors saw the matter differently, taking up a business model that also reflected practices of some church empires. They brought the Cayce enterprise under tight fiscal and policy control, sharply centralizing it in Virginia Beach after a wave of public interest in the 1960's (following the publication of a journalist's colorful book on Cayce as a "sleeping prophet"). What seemed fitting to an inspired and dedicated visionary, trusting in the "free will offerings" typical of his church world, and in the slow but steady actions of the Spirit, has seemed to his successors lacking in practicality and zip, in a media and mall age perceived as ready for the authority of a celebrated psychic.

IV. Revisioning Cayce

It may be that Edgar Cayce is lost to our times as a resource for studying new directions in spirituality and holistic balance, as well as in social justice and social change. He may be buried under a mountain of well-intentioned campaigns, trapped by the zeal for making his name known everywhere. He has ended up--so far--not as a well-used constructive force for a postmodern world, but as a figure that many have heard about but relatively few take seriously, let alone seek to replicate or emulate. His status is that of a kind of spiritual rock star of the past, hung up on wall posters, and given color by his psychic feats and his espousal of such unusual themes as reincarnation and Atlantis. Finding the real Cayce may be as elusive as finding a living Elvis.

Yet if mislabeling and mis-typing him has done so much damage, it may be worth the effort to try more fitting categories, especially when these are related in continua to other types. Proper categories might eventually open the way to the responsible study of his life, work, thought, and influence, both by graduate students and by established professionals and scholars.

A. Religious typologies

First of all Cayce needs to be studied as a man of prayer, located among the serious lovers of God in various traditions. There is every reason to consider his daily trances as extensions of his heartfelt, lifelong prayer, embedded in a rich flow of spiritual experiences.

It has long been fashionable in a technological time to view his reading state as a discrete phenomenon, closer to hypnosis than to devotions. But the biblical record offers challenges to such a split. Abraham receives his promise from Yahweh in a trance, as the primal creation story has Adam encountering Eve through one. Judges and prophets step into altered states of profound awe and trust, to receive their messages and empowerment, just as apostles find their guidance in being filled by the Spirit. John on Patmos writes his searing revelation in trance. Here, as in other world traditions, there are glimpses of a continuum between daily waking devotion and worship all the way to elevated or ecstatic states, such as overtook Isaiah in the temple.

However, we do not yet have widely used typological arrangements of prayer, despite the poles in tension suggested by Otto (21), and the creative efforts of Van der Leeuw (22). The necessary work on categories and types of prayer and meditation in stages and gradients must surely be illumined by accounts of prayer in the three stages of the devotional life in many Christian mystics, or seven in the Sufi path to fana, or by models of meditation in branches of Buddhism, and by consideration of chakras and energies in Hinduism, as well as of sparks and other matters in Hassidism. In this rich context, Cayce as a modern praying American, found in his memoirs and letters as well as in the content of his readings, may prove a rewarding resource.

Cayce insisted that the nearest approach many of us at first have to his trance state of high creativity and value-richness lies in our prayer-tutored dreams. The varieties or types of religious experience in dreams are only recently getting systematic attention (especially in the Jungian perspectives of Kelsey (23) and Sanford (24), as extraordinary nocturnal creations of the unconscious where the spiritual, the aesthetic, and the psychic may dance together, under the stimulus of steady ethical demands for individuation and for social transformation (a dimension of dreams sadly neglected in a time focusing on private attainment). Careful study of dreams may appropriate Cayce for religious scholarship in valuable ways, as I have tried to suggest in my books, Dreams In the Life of Prayer and Meditation (25) and Edgar Cayce On Dreams (26).

We have other typologies currently being fashioned for examining Cayce's work and legacy as a form of spirituality. He used the via negativa at times, although the church life around him uses the via eminentia. In technical terms, it would be appropriate to describe him as a Christian mystic, emphasizing the immediate accessibility of the divine to all, and the possibility of training for the "Godded life" (as Underhill puts it), while acting in consort with others (in patterns reminiscent of the fourteenth-century Friends of God) to be accountable to a major religious tradition and community. I have examined him in a volume (27) using that context, besides such figures as the women mystics of Spain and Italy, the Victorines of France, the visionaries of the Lowlands, the Rhine Valley mystics, and Fox and Law in England.

It would be fair to describe Cayce's outlook and practice as creation-centered spirituality (28), insofar as his readings do not often start with an effort to convict of sin, especially when given for desperately ill people, but rather with an assurance of the love and care and healing resources of God. But his inevitable attention to sin as finally selfishness (and the ultimate cause of illness, karmically or not, seen socially as well as professionally), together with his unflinching affirmation of the reality and the gravity of evil (though not as a dualist principle), provide essential balance. So does the sophisticated picture he offers of the patient working of karma, joined to an affirmation of God's forgiving grace, making his creation spirituality a basis for life-transforming change, not for complacency. In a time when common ground is sought between Judeo-Christian-Islamic models of the human pilgrimage and Hindu-Buddhist versions of karma, Cayce's perspectives may provide fresh insights, as Richard Drummond has insisted.

Further, Cayce can be studied to illuminate spiritual gifts, as these are seen in different types of leadership. His entire record, in which developments of grace and wisdom empower changes in physical circumstance, yet demand changed lives, may be seen as a challenge to what has been called the great sacrificium intellectus of modern Western times: the affirmation that biblical figures and writers were profound in their moral and spiritual perceptions, but gullible dummies when it came to matters of healing, discerning the inner activity of minds and hearts, or miracles, or prediction. Morton Kelsey has taken the New Testament and cut out all such passages--when he holds up the book and riffles through the pages, the resulting sight is startling, and throws one back to primal issues.

More amenable to typological efforts for studying Cayce is the attempt to arrange religious figures on a continuum of gifts, from those of diviner to prophet, where the diviner has the most limited gifts and the prophet the maximum. Guillaume, in his careful and helpful study (enriched by first-hand accounts of Arabian diviners) entitled Prophecy and Divination Among the Hebrews and Other Semites (29), has contributed much to this effort. And Joachim Wach, the sociologist of religion, has gone farther in delineating ideal types. Arranged on such a plan, Cayce would emerge (as Wach agreed about him) short of the many-sided figure of the prophet, who has (in ideal-type terms) gifts of healing, artistic expression, vision, organizational leadership, and wonder-working (e.g. the multiplication of loaves and fishes). Assuredly not a diviner, and not a direct healer (although deeply involved in the healing process), Cayce may best be viewed as a seer, typically engaging individuals, guaranteeing the tradition by his counsel and his teaching, able in artistic expression (as a photographer and a poetic visionary), but lacking in commanding leadership gifts and in wonder-working.

B. Sociology-of-religion typologies

Max Weber drew the helpful distinction between personal and official charisma or authority (not glamour) in his analysis of leadership styles. Cayce clearly presents almost entirely personal charisma, as what I have called a "seer out of season" in a time that has no place for seers.
Weber also notes charisma of character and example, "exemplary prophecy" and its absence; Cayce's associates and followers have tended to see in him a touching saint (modeled on hagiographic models of peasant visionaries), despite the contradictory testimony of his own self-descriptions and the accounts of those close to him (including my own memoir/biography of him). Yet his faithfulness and integrity in matters of money, publicity, and fair use of his gifts have commended him to many, for whom his interior struggles for growth and balance have only made him more relevant to their own lives.

James MacGregor Burns has distinguished between transactional and transformational leadership (30); in this typology Cayce belongs with the transformational, although his failures with his hospital and university underscore limitations in his leadership, as they also do weaknesses in his associates, who were drawn to him but put off by the dear that he might see too deeply into them. How strong, numinous gifts constellate groupings and yet dissolve them deserves study here, as in other inquiries into masters and disciples, such as Wach's Meister und Juenger.

A rewarding direction for the study of Cayce lies in his fostering of small groups for prayer, Bible study, self-analysis and self-discipline, and service. These may be seen within the long history of ecclesia in ecclesia in the West, both in monastic traditions and in such Protestant expressions as the Anabaptist collegia pietasis, as well as Wesley's bands. And they may fruitfully be compared with today's groupings in A.A. and related efforts, as well as with the astonishing emergence of 200,000 lay-led Christian Base Communities in Latin America.

Wach has suggested an axis for the study of religious leaders which examined their roles by how they relate to the tradition (31), ranging from functionaries who maintain it, through interpreters and visionaries who deepen and renew it, all the way to reformers and finally founders of new ways and teachings. Despite his occupation with a scheme of reincarnation and karma, Cayce has been seen by a number of scholars (including myself) as manifesting the typical seer role of guaranteeing the tradition, rather than drastically reforming it. The great themes of creation, redemption, and sanctification (as Luther grouped the divine efforts) receive from Cayce more affirmation and balancing than radical remaking. His language and passion find explicit parallels in Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, and other mystics in love with God rather than with theosophical speculation as such.

Yet Cayce has been presented by his inheritors as a psychic revealer for a New Age, with his "readings" serving as the equivalent of Swedenborg's arcane writings. Such dynamics can be studied to illuminate how movements grow and veer from the stamp of their original inspiration. Comparison with the thousands of counseling transcripts of the modern space engineer and thorough Bible teacher, Aron Abrahamsen, may help to delineate Cayce's own gifts and roots (32).
Obviously the sequence of generations of leadership in a family dynasty presents issues in the Cayce effort, as traced above. And the tensions of an originally spiritual movement with a secular culture in a technological age have already been suggested.

C. Psychology-of-religion typologies

In several books, including High Play (33) and Edgar Cayce On Religion and Psychic Experience (34), I have suggested that the vein of psychological inquiry most helpful in studying--and ultimately replicating--Cayce is creativity (his central term would be "co-creating"). We do not yet have widely-used typologies for this sphere, but some are emerging, such as the relative prominence of the contrasexual pole in the highly creative person, and the ability to suspend habitual perceptions (Deikman's de-automatization), as well as the impact of different forms of meditation and related altered states that Tart and many others have reported. Studies in consciousness that give special attention to clusters of archetypes in creativity deserve careful attention; it is no accident that a course on Cayce has regularly been taught at the C.G. Jung Institut in Switzerland.

Attention has so often been drawn to Cayce's trances that the rich creativity in the matrix of his life has been ignored. There he is an inventor, of early color photography, of classroom tables, of new flower types, and of a floating tree for shade while fishing, who draws other inventors (such as the creator of the oilcan spout for autos, and the chemist named Bisey who isolated iodine-one from iodine-two).

He is a game deviser and player, whose "Pit, or Corner the Market" has held the attention of several generations of Americans.

Heis a prize-winning photographer, doing not only able portraits but studies of figures who suggest biblical times, and even studies of nudes in the conservative South of the 1920's.

He is a trainer of stockbrokers who use their intuition and their nightly dreams to become millionaires and philanthropists, as he is a consultant on peace plans in Wilson's White House.

He is a prospector for Texas oil, who goes to the actual oil fields to find the resources to build a hospital.

He is a gifted speaker and teacher, who profoundly stirs his hearers.

He is a counselor and spiritual guide for scores of people, quite apart from his trances, in the mold of serious mystics in several world traditions.

He is, like the founders of A.A. just a few years after him, a chief designer and catalyst for a certain type of spiritual search group, with a devotional training manual, where he fosters anonymity and freedom from financial or other control by his own organization, the ARE.

He is a recruiter and coach for medical servants going to underdeveloped countries. (Note that from the first church school class in which he taught young adults in the Ninth Street Christian Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky--while still in his teens and far from any giving of readings--nineteen, or half, went out to foreign medical missions.)

He is a volunteer worker in jails and prisons on weekends through most of his adult life.

In the context of all this continuous, high-energy creativity, but not apart from it, Cayce may be studied for that part of his efforts which was his remarkable psychic activity, and for comparable practices which he stimulated and guided in others. The physiological, psychological, social, and spiritual conditions of his being able to draw on unusual springs of data (and sometimes, it seems, energies and opportunities) for problem-solving may then begin to appear afresh, leading to the replication and improvement of what he did in unusual counseling--an outcome he deeply believed was sure to come. In this process the misleading analogy to passive perception in Rhine's term "extrasensory perception" may yield to models of psi as a highly creative act.

Since Cayce's primary efforts, with some important exceptions, went into counseling individuals and consulting on their needs and projects, rather than on systematically expounding teachings, there is good reason to compare his activities with those of therapists, where--as Gardner Murphy (35) has illustrated--psychic dimensions spontaneously emerge. Probing the connection between such developments and themes of therapy may open a valuable vein of study, as Jung has suggested. It may also foster rapprochement between traditional spiritual directors and more medical psychotherapists.

Addressing the challenge of personality dimensions in one who exercises many-sided creativity such as Cayce's must surely lead to issues of developmental stages and dynamics. The scheme of successive psycho-spiritual stages that Ken Wilber has presented in The Atman Project (36), where psychic ability emerges naturally in a level beyond normal everyday functioning, and remains a component of two more stages beyond it, should be helpful. In this framework Cayce may perhaps be viewed not as an appealing person with added powers, but as having a much more sophisticated personality structure in close relation with his Lord, where psychic developments remain natural.

As we grope for new terms for Cayce, we will doubtless consider components such as these, with their cognate phenomena and roles:

(1) A man of prayer;

(2) An American Protestant mystic, with decisive biblical and church roots, and commitment to smalllay-led growth groups, in a life vigorously dedicated to medical service;

(3) A highly creative inventor/artist/teacher/counselor, skilled at using altered states of consciousness to share a rich value framework;

(4) A faith interpreter and philosopher, developing a coherent worldview and demanding ethic by a case-method of individual counsel, not unfamiliar among rabbis and other spiritual teachers.

(5) A complex and sophisticated bearer, not without wounds, of taxing creative abilities within an earnestly devout life.

Fortunately, the confusions of labels and typologies, while seriously damaging to scholarship and research on the fourfold Cayce legacy, have not prevented hundreds--even thousands--of thoughtful people from digging out of the total Cayce event/legacy an enriched cosmology and demanding ethic, a generous daily spirituality, companionship with other disciplined seekers, and an invitation to explore kinds of inspired creativity still marginal in our culture (37).

However, for many others equally thoughtful, the metamorphosis of the Cayce effort from a refreshing current within mainstream Western faith marked by service, devotion, modesty, high creativity, and critical judgment into an alternative spirituality for the masses, emphasizing psychic and other powers of the mind, has produced indifference or hostility. An accountability to rich spiritual traditions has been jettisoned, as has accountability to professions, institutions, and critical methods (in history, philosophy, religion, and the arts). In their place the life of the spirit is presented in colorful forms saleable to a technological age with a short attention span. The results for these persons have been less than salutary.

For purposes of scholarship, our concern here, my own judgment (after half a century of working with the Cayce challenge) is that if we line up an astrologer, a tarot reader, a channeler, a medium, and an auric healer, we cannot get to Cayce (or to the Cayce in all of us) from these, stimulating as they may be. But if we line up an inventor, a Peace Corps medical worker, an artist, a talented gardener, a person of devout prayer, and a contemplative scripture teacher (in any of the great traditions), we can. The choice is worth making carefully if we are to understand the contributions of an extraordinary life, anchored in transformative values, as he patiently did the unheard-of in modern America, convinced that the Holy One of biblical times is as close as ever to responsive daughters and sons.


(1) Reprinted in Drummond, Richard, Unto the Churches, Virginia Beach: ARE Press, 1978.

(2) Van der Lieeuw, Gerardus, Religion in Essence and Manifestation, London: Allen and Unwin, 1933.

(3) Wach, Joachim, Sociology of Religion, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944.

(4) Jung, C.G., Psychological Types, volume six of the Collected Works, New York: Pantheon, 1962.

(5) Ford, Arthur, with Bro, Margueritte Harmon, Nothing So Strange, New York: Harper, 1958.

(6) Hurkos, Peter, Psychic, New York: Popular Library, 1961.

(7) Bro, Harmon H., A Seer Out of Season: The Life of Edgar Cayce, New York: New American Library, 1989.

(8) Buber, Martin, I and Thou, New York: Scribner's, 1970.

(9) Virginia Beach: Association for Research and Enlightenment, 1943.

(10) A Search For God (Books I and II), Virginia Beach: ARE Press, 1942/1946.

(11) Thurston, Mark A., Discovering Your Soul's Purpose, Virginia Beach: ARE Press, 1984.

(12) Thurston, Mark A., The Paradox of Power, Virginia Beach: ARE Press, 1987.

(13) Drummond, Richard H., Jesus: A New Life, San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

(14) Mein, Eric, Keys To Health: The Challenge of Holism, San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

(15) Sugrue, Thomas, There Is a River, New York: Holt, 1942.

(16) Eddy, Sherwood, You Will Survive After Death, New York: Rinchart, 1950.

(17) Bro, Margueritte H., Every Day a Prayer. New York: Harper, 1943.

(18) Richards, Douglas, "The Phenomenology and Psychological Correlates of Verbal Prayer," unpublished, 1990.

(19) Dass, Ram, How Can I Help?, New York: Doubleday, 1988.

(20) Reilly, Harold, The Edgar Cayce Handbook for Health Through Drugless Therapy, New York: Berkley, 1985.

(21) Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy, New York: Oxford, 1958.

(22) Op. cit.

(23) Kelsey, Morton, God, Dreams, and Revelation, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974.

(24) Sanford, John, Dreams: God's Forgotten Language, New York: Lippincott, 1968.

(25) Bro, Harmon H., Virginia Beach: Inner Vision, 1985.

(26) Bro, Harmon H., New York: Paperback Library, 1969.

(27) Bro, Harmon, Begin a New Life, New York: Harper, 1971.

(28) See Fox, Matthew, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

(29) New York: Harper, 1938.

(30) Burns, James MacGregor, Leadership, New York: Harper, 1978.

(31) Op. cit.

(32) Abrahamsen, Aron, unpublished autobiography.

(33) Bro, Harmon H., High Play, New York: Coward McCann, 1970.

(34) Bro, Harmon H., Edgar Cayce On Religion and Psychic Experience, New York: Paperback Library, 1970.

(35) Murphy, Gardner, The Challenge of Psychical Research, New York: Harper, 1961.

(36) Boston: Shambhala, 1988.

(37) How well Cayce's counsel fares without any psychic feats at all may quickly be discovered in two pocket-sized books of value-laden quotations published by ARE Press, Think On These Things (1981) and Quiet Thoughts (1987).

(c) 1992 Pilgrim Institute, Inc.

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