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
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:
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
(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
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
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
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
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
As we grope for new terms for Cayce, we will doubtless consider components
such as these, with their cognate phenomena and roles:
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
(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,
(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
(13) Drummond, Richard H., Jesus: A New Life, San Francisco: Harper,
(14) Mein, Eric, Keys To Health: The Challenge of Holism, San Francisco:
(15) Sugrue, Thomas, There Is a River, New York: Holt, 1942.
(16) Eddy, Sherwood, You Will Survive After Death, New York: Rinchart,
(17) Bro, Margueritte H., Every Day a Prayer. New York: Harper,
(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:
(24) Sanford, John, Dreams: God's Forgotten Language, New York:
(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:
(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
(c) 1992 Pilgrim Institute, Inc.