Cayce became a celebrity toward the end of his life, and the publicity given to his prophecies has overshadowed what to him were usually considered the more important parts of his work, such as healing (the vast majority of his readings were given for people who were sick) and theology (Cayce was a lifelong, devout member of the Disciples of Christ). Skeptics challenge the claim that Cayce demonstrated psychic abilities, and conventional Christians also question his unorthodox answers on religious matters (such as reincarnation and Akashic records). He may have been the source for the idea that California would fall into the Pacific ocean (though he never said exactly this).
Today there are tens of thousands of Cayce students. Most are located in the United States and Canada, but Edgar Cayce Centers are now found in 25 other countries. The Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE), headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA, is the major organization promoting interest in Cayce.
Cayce's education stopped with the ninth grade because his family could not afford the costs involved. An ninth-grade education was often considered more than sufficient for working-class children. Much of the remainder of Cayce's younger years would be characterized by a search for employment and/or money.
Throughout his life Cayce was drawn to church as a member of the Disciples of Christ. He read the Bible once for every year of his life, taught at Sunday school, recruited missionaries, and is said to have agonized over the issue of whether his supposed psychic abilities--and the teachings which resulted--were spiritually legitimate.
In 1900 he formed a business partnership with his father to sell Woodmen of the World Insurance but was struck by severe laryngitis in March that resulted in a complete loss of speech. Unable to work, he lived at home with his parents for almost a year. He then decided to take up the trade of photography, an occupation that would exert less strain on his voice. He began an apprenticeship at the photography studio of W. R. Bowles in Hopkinsville.
A travelling stage hypnotist and entertainer called "Hart - The Laugh Man" was performing at the Hopkinsville Opera House in 1901. He heard about Cayce's condition and offered to attempt a cure. Cayce accepted and the experiment took place on stage in front of an audience. Remarkably, Cayce's voice apparently returned while in a hypnotic trance but allegedly disappeared on awakening. Hart tried a post-hypnotic suggestion that the voice would continue to function after the trance but this proved unsuccessful.
Since Hart had appointments at other cities, he could not continue his hypnotic treatment of Cayce. However a local hypnotist, Al Layne, offered to help Cayce in restoring his voice. Layne suggested that Cayce describe the nature of his condition and cure while in a hypnotic trance. Cayce described his own ailment from a first person plural point of view ("we") instead of the singular ("I"). In subsequent readings he would generally start off with "We have the body." According to the reading, his voice loss was due to psychological paralysis and could be corrected by increasing the blood flow to the voice box. Layne suggested that the blood flow be increased and Cayce's face supposedly became flushed with blood and his chest area and the throat turned bright red. After 20 minutes Cayce, still in trance, declared the treatment over. On awakening his voice was alleged to have remained normal. Relapses were said to have occurred but were claimed to have been corrected by Layne in the same way and eventually the cure was claimed to be permanent.
Layne had read of similar hypnotic cures effected by the Marquis de Puységur, a follower of Franz Mesmer, and was keen to explore the limits of the healing knowledge of the trance voice. He asked Cayce to describe Layne's own ailments and suggest cures, and reportedly found the results both accurate and effective. Layne suggested that Cayce offer his trance healing to the public but Cayce was reluctant. He finally agreed on the condition that readings would be free. He began with Layne's help to offer free treatments to the townspeople. Reportedly he had great success and his fame spread. Reports of Cayce's work appeared in the newspapers, inspiring many postal inquiries. Supposedly, Cayce was able to work just as effectively using a letter from the individual as with having the person present. Given the person's name and location, he claimed he could diagnose the physical and/or mental conditions and provide corrective remedy. He became popular and soon people from around the world sought his advice through correspondence.
Cayce's work grew in volume as his fame grew. He asked for voluntary donations to support himself and his family so that he could practice full time. He continued to work in an apparent trance state with a hypnotist all his life. His wife and eldest son later replaced Layne in this role. A secretary, Gladys Davis, recorded his readings in shorthand.
He was persuaded to give readings on philosophical subjects in 1923 by Arthur Lammers, a wealthy printer. While in his supposed trance state, Cayce spoke unequivocally of past lives. Reincarnation was a popular subject of the day, but is not an accepted part of Christian doctrine. Cayce reported that his conscience bothered him severely over this conflict. Lammers reassured and argued with Cayce. His "trance voice," the "we" of the readings, also supposedly dialogued with Cayce and finally persuaded him to continue with these kinds of readings. In 1925 Cayce reported his "voice" had instructed him to move to Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Cayce's mature period, in which he created the several institutions which would survive him in some form, can be considered to have started in 1925. By this time he was a professional psychic with a small staff of employees and volunteers. The "readings" increasingly came to involve occultic or esoteric themes.
In 1929 the Cayce hospital was established in Virginia Beach sponsored by a wealthy recipient of the trance readings, Morton Blumenthal.
Cayce gained national prominence in 1943 through a high profile article in Coronet titled "Miracle Man of Virginia Beach". Claiming that he couldn't refuse people who felt they needed his help, he increased the frequency of his readings to 8 per day to try to make an impression on the ever-growing pile of requests. He claimed this took a toll on his health, as he said that it was emotionally draining and often fatigued him. He even went so far as to claim that the readings themselves scolded him for attempting too much and that the reading had limited his workload to just 2 readings a day or they would kill him.
Cayce's methods involved lying down and entering into what appeared to be a trance or sleep state, usually at the request of a subject who was seeking help with health or other personal problems (subjects were not usually present). The subject's questions would then be given to Cayce, and Cayce would proceed with a reading. At first these readings dealt primarily with the physical health of the individual (physical readings); later readings on past lives, business advice, dream interpretation, and mental or spiritual health were also given.
Until September 1923, they were not systematically preserved. However, an October 10, 1922 Birmingham (Alabama) Age-Herald article quotes Cayce as saying that he had given 8,056 readings as of that date, and it is known that he gave approximately 13,000-14,000 readings after that date. Today, only about 14,000 are available at Cayce headquarters and on-line. Thus, it appears that about 7,000-8,000 Cayce readings are missing.
When out of the trance he entered to perform a reading, Cayce claimed generally not to remember what he had said during the reading. The unconscious mind, according to Cayce, has access to information which the conscious mind does not — a common assumption about hypnosis in Cayce's time. After Gladys Davis became Cayce's secretary on September 10, 1923, all readings were preserved and his wife Gertrude Evans Cayce generally conducted (guided) the readings.
Cayce said that his trance statements should be taken into account only to the extent that they led to a better life for the recipient. Moreover, he invited his audience to test his suggestions rather than accept them on faith.
Other abilities that have been attributed to Cayce include astral projection, prophesying, mediumship (communication with the dead), viewing the Akashic Records or "Book of Life", and seeing auras. Cayce claimed to have become interested in learning more about these subjects after he was informed about the content of his readings, which he reported that he never actually heard himself.
One such example from Gina Cerminara's works:
"Cayce once gave a reading on a blind man, a musician by profession, who regained part of his vision in one eye through following the physical suggestions given by Cayce. This man happened to have a passion for railroads and a tremendous interest in the Civil War. In the life reading which Cayce gave, he said that the man had been a soldier in the South, in the army of Lee, and that he had been a railroad man by profession in that incarnation. Then he proceeded to tell him that his name in that life was Barnett Seay, and that the records of Seay could still be found in the state of Virginia. The man took the trouble to hunt for the records -- and found them, in the state capitol at Richmond: that is to say he found the record of one Barnett Seay, standard-bearer in Lee's army who had entered and been discharged from the service in such and such a year."
The Dictionary of American Religious Biography writes about Cayce,
Skeptics of Cayce say that the evidence for his powers comes from contemporaneous newspaper articles, affidavits, anecdotes, and testimonials, which are not scientifically rigorous. They are also critical of Cayce's support for various forms of alternative medicine, which are regarded by many as quackery.
Michael Shermer writes in Why People Believe Weird Things, "Uneducated beyond the ninth grade, Cayce acquired his broad knowledge through voracious reading and from this he wove elaborate tales." Shermer wrote that, "Cayce was fantasy-prone from his youth, often talking with angels and receiving visions of his dead grandfather. Shermer further cites James Randi as saying "Cayce was fond of expressions like 'I feel that' and 'perhaps' -- qualifying words used to avoid positive declarations." Shermer also says that methods used at the institution operated by Cayce's followers show their ESP experiments have no statistical difference from chance.
One of Cayce's most controversial claims regards the actual age of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. In one of his readings: (Q) What was the date of the actual beginning and ending of the construction of the Great Pyramid? (A) Was one hundred years in construction. Begun and completed in the period of Araaraart's time, with Atlanteans Hermes and Ra. (Q) What was the date B.C. of that period? (A) 10,490 to 10,390 before the Prince (Jesus) entered into Egypt. Today, it is believed that the Great Pyramid was built around 2560 B.C. for Khufu by Egyptian workers and took about 20 years to complete. Egyptian civilization is thought by most Egyptologists to have begun around 3000-4000 B.C., rather than 10,500 BC.
Lon Whitworth of Probe Ministries regards Cayce as someone who was misled by demonic forces and who has led many astray from what they see as the true path.
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