A backwoods Kentucky farm boy with an eighth grade education, Edgar Cayce allegedly had the ability to enter into a deep hypnotic trance from which he could diagnose illness, witness events in the distant past, preview the future, and converse with angels. No subject was off limits, regardless of how simple or complex the question, whether it was help finding a lost pocket watch, how to perform a surgical procedure, or what to expect in the hereafter. Cayce would lay down on a couch, fold his hands over this stomach, seemingly drift off to sleep, and miraculously answer any question put to him. Rarely, if ever, was he proven wrong.
In the course of his forty-one-year career, Cayce reportedly saved hundreds of people from intractable diseases and crippling injuries. A hospital dedicated to his healing arts was built in Virginia Beach, where patients received his trance readings, and specialty technology, years ahead of its time, was used to treat them. He guided the business interests of Detroit auto parts manufacturers and helped New York stockbrokers and Texas oilmen become millionaires. He identified the location of buried treasure, solved a murder, and dictated trance-induced Hollywood screenplays. Yet Cayce and his family led lives of constant struggle and hardship, moving from home to home, often under threat of being persecuted for fortunetelling or practicing medicine without a license. He didn't profit from giving trance counsel, or promote himself, and for much of his life, he earned his livelihood as a portrait photographer and a reputation as a much-admired husband, father, and church deacon.
Trance discourses he gave on such subjects as foods for health and healing, hydrotherapy, massage, and the intimate connection between psychological and physical health would earn Cayce distinction as the undisputed father of today's holistic health movement as well as the father of the new age movement. Information he gave on world history, physics, electrical engineering, and earth sciences also proved uncannily accurate. And though he died decades before there was wide-spread popular interest in paranormal phenomenon, Cayce's trance readings on subjects such as remote viewing, life after death, reincarnation, the secrets of the Sphinx, and the lost continent of Atlantis, would set the standard by which nearly all metaphysical information has subsequently been judged. He was to the world of psychics and mediums what Babe Ruth was to baseball.
Most compelling, Cayce didn't speak in vague, ambiguous terms that were open for interpretation, but used precise medical and scientific terminology well beyond his education and training. Further, he didn't perform these superhuman feats a few hundred times in the course of his career. He gave well over fourteen thousand documented trance readings--each one different, and some lasting thirty minutes to an hour. On many occasions professors from Ivy League universities, notable church leaders, bank presidents, historians, physicians, inventors and scientists attended his trance session. Master magician Harry Houdini, having dedicated himself to exposing the fraudulent practices of hundreds of occult mediums and spiritualists, failed to debunk or explain the Cayce phenomenon, nor did Hugo Münsterberg, of the Harvard Medical School.
Even this, however, was not what made the Cayce material most relevant. As his trance readings make clear, their ultimate purpose was not simply to provide diagnostic insights to aid physicians, bring about miraculous cures, locate lost treasure, or to excite the intellect. They were provided to help individuals to understand and accept the truth of the multi-dimensional world in which we live. Cayce had provided incontrovertible evidence for the existence of a consciousness beyond our five senses. His work was an open door into another dimension through which we can more fully understand ourselves and our place in the universe.
Even as a child, Edgar only had to close his eyes to locate a lost ring or pocket watch. He could read a deck of playing cards that were face down on a table or recite the contents of a closed book or sealed envelope. By merely thinking about someone he could wake the person up from a deep sleep, induce him or her to make a telephone call or write a letter, or in the case of young children, hold them in a particular pose long enough to take their portraits. He had solved a murder, found missing persons, diagnosed illness and disease, and recommended cures. He didn't use a crystal ball, playing cards, or a Ouija board. Nor did he belong to a temple or arcane spiritual fraternity. He needed only to close his eyes, as if putting himself to sleep, and after a short period of quiet and meditation, he was able to help any person who asked for it. The greater the person's need, and the more sincere their motivation, the more astonishing were the results.
In the years ahead, the work became such an integral part of Edgar Cayce's life that it was impossible to separate the man from his trance-induced communications. There were times when the readings threatened to tear his family apart, and times when they were all that held it together. Edgar Cayce would be catapulted to national prominence on the front page of the New York Times and then vilified by the Chicago Examiner. He would be championed as a savior and reviled as an agent of the Devil. But he would continue giving readings, twice a day, nearly every day, on topics as diverse as organ transplants, cures for breast cancer and treatments for arthritis to the design of the universe and the purpose of man's existence on earth. No subject was off limits. He provided trance commentary on Jesus and His disciples, the role of women in the founding of Christianity, and the secrets of the sphinx. He offered insights into how to improve relations between men and women, the spiritual role that parents play in choosing the child that will be born to them, and the possible causes of homosexuality. During his forty-three-year career, which ended on September 17, 1944—three months before his death—Edgar Cayce gave 14,145 fully documented readings for 5,744 people. Transcripts of these readings—which sometimes run as long as twenty single-spaced typed pages—and the approximately 170,000 pages of correspondence, diaries, medical reports, and notes documenting the work now comprise what is the most unusual and voluminous archive that has ever existed on a practicing psychic.
The only consolation Edgar would have in his long and frequently perilous journey out of the darkroom was knowing that he had the unqualified love and support of those closest to him. Despite his wife Gertrude's worry that her husband was slowly going insane and might, one day, have to be put into the Hopkinsville asylum, she devoted her life to conducting his trance sessions and battling the ever-present financiers and speculators who sought to exploit him. Accompanying Edgar on his journey was a young woman from Alabama named Gladys Davis, a stenographer and secretary who became an indispensable part of the work by making verbatim transcripts of everything Cayce said while in trance, and whose appreciation and love for the "messenger" as well as his "message" raised the level of Edgar's trance readings to that of an art form.
Edgar Cayce's partners through the years included physicians, stockbrokers, inventors, soldiers, film producers, and Texas oilmen. These men would help build the Cayce Hospital in Virginia Beach and establish the first and only university whose faculty underwent psychic scrutiny before being hired. Despite the fact that these partnerships sometimes ended in costly and humiliating lawsuits, they also brought Cayce many hundreds of grateful recipients of his trance counsel. As his son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, once said, "Edgar was like an open door into another dimension. People were attracted to the light."
Master magician Harry Houdini, having dedicated himself to exposing the fraudulent practices of hundreds of occult mediums and spiritualists, failed to debunk or explain the Cayce phenomenon, and neither did police and FBI agents who launched an investigation into how he was able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. That Cayce didn't charge admission to witness his trance sessions, that he didn't conjure ectoplasm or summon phantom spirits in a darkened room, presented unique and entirely unfamiliar challenges. That he built no church, had no disciples, and avoided the limelight confounded and confused detractors. As the novelist and psychic researcher Arthur Conan Doyle said of Cayce: "He was in a class all his own."
From hundreds of pages of documents and correspondence that have never before been made public there is some evidence that such scientific luminaries as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were given trance readings by Cayce, as were engineers at RCA, IBM, Delco, and the president and founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The inventor Mitchell Hastings credited Cayce with helping him to develop FM radio. NBC founder David Sarnoff and his family had secret readings. Innovative electronic technologies designed by Cayce in trance are now used in almost every large hospital and airport in the world.
Edgar Cayce gave readings for Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Gloria Swanson, and the concerned mother of Ernest Hemingway. Marilyn Monroe practiced beauty aids recommended by Cayce in trance. Business tycoon Nelson Rockefeller and labor organizer George Meany availed themselves of Cayce's medical advice. High-ranking foreign diplomats and church leaders consulted Cayce, as did government agents and politicians whose trance readings were conducted and transcribed privately. And although the details remain unclear, circumstantial evidence suggests that Cayce conducted psychic readings for President Woodrow Wilson, as he sought to make peace in the aftermath of first world war—which was intended to be the "war to end all wars." Cayce predicted the failure of prohibition, the great stock market crash, the beginning and end of two world wars, the deaths of two presidents, and made startling assertions about the second coming of Christ and the next millennium.
Despite the overwhelming success of his medical readings, and despite the fact that the recipients of many of these readings were some of the richest and most influential people in the country, Edgar Cayce would spend much of his adult life living in poverty, moving from home to home, constantly under threat of being persecuted for “fortune-telling” or practicing medicine without a license. His readings were often conducted in makeshift conditions and sometimes had to be transcribed on sheets of recycled wrapping paper. At times, he didn't have enough money to feed his children and had to rely on his friends and in-laws to bail him out of debt—or even jail.
That Edgar Cayce persevered and continued giving readings for four decades was perhaps the greatest miracle of his life. And however inseparable the readings became from the man who gave them, it was not his trance communications that endeared him most to family and friends. A humble, kind, gentle, and affectionate man, Edgar preferred the company of children over and above his many rich and famous acquaintances. He invented card games to entertain visitors, bottled his own preserves, kept a dazzling garden, and maintained a lively correspondence with a vast array of people whom he had never met—from child prodigies and bank presidents to railway conductors and undertakers. Though demands on his time were so great that appointments sometimes had to be scheduled months in advance, he rarely missed his weekly Bible study class and never turned anyone away who was in genuine need.
A powerful force drove Edgar out of what might otherwise have been a comfortable and ordinary existence as a church deacon, photographer, and husband. That his journey would be helpful to others was not in doubt. That he had the courage to overcome his fears and, as he said, "step out into the light," made his journey all the more remarkable, given how frightening and blinding the glare of that light could sometimes be. His life became a series of sometimes joyful, often excruciating steps toward self-discovery, and although he may have never fully grasped the unimaginable forces that had chosen him as a messenger, he would one day discover what he believed to be the real purpose of his work—to help people recognize that there was more than just physical and mental realms, that we are spiritual beings and there is a spiritual realm that we each are a part of—and that we need to remember.
As Edgar Cayce himself, in trance, once said: "There are no shortcuts to knowledge or wisdom or understanding... these must be lived and experienced by each and every soul."