This is an essay I wrote for a book about Edgar Cayce, published in October 2000 by Riverhead Books, a division of Putnam/Penguin. I think it presents Edgar Cayce and his work in a way readers might better understand his contribution to holistic medicine and the New Age movement. I urge readers to keep in mind the fact that Cayce's prophesies were not actually prophesies at all--as the tabloids have long misrepresented. Cayce "prophesies" represent less than 2% of the 28,000+ trance readings he gave between 1921 and 1944. All were prefaced by a passage which states--in essence--that the future is not set, that man makes his own destiny by what he holds in his heart and his mind. All of us, either individually or as a community or collectively as a nation determines their own fate. Hence, what Cayce is saying in the so-called prophesies, is that given the current situation... we can expect the following to occur.
Keep this in mind as you read the introduction to my book:
Introduction: The Open Door
Nine years after the turn of the twentieth century, a young photographer named Edgar Cayce stepped off a Pullman and onto a crowded passenger platform in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Edgar might normally have paused to greet acquaintances at the station or stopped to warm himself beside the coal stove in the ticket office, but he had more pressing business on that cold, rainy February night. He pulled up the collar on his thin cotton jacket and ventured into the downpour to meet a waiting carriage.
The driver, Lynn Evans, quickly ushered Edgar inside his cab. As chief ticket agent and superintendent at the Hopkinsville depot, Lynn was the natural choice to be on the look-out for his brother-in-law's arrival on the northbound local from Guthrie, Kentucky. Knowing the urgency of Cayce's visit, Lynn likely reached for the horse's reins the moment the tall, lanky photographer emerged from the cloud of steam billowing out from under the eighty-two ton locomotive.
Framed in the yellow halo of light from the overhead oil lamps on East Ninth Street, Edgar looked too young to be a church deacon or the owner of one of Kentucky's most respected photography studios. His shy, pensive smile and clean-shaven face gave him the youthful appearance of a college sophomore coming home for the holidays. His tousled brown hair was cut short, accentuating his high forehead, deep-set blue-gray eyes, and receding chin. His large feet and hands seemed better suited to an awkward youth on the verge of manhood than a thirty-two-year-old husband and father.
A closer look at Cayce revealed the truth of his age and occupation. Having spent much of the last decade in a darkroom, his complexion was pale and his fingers were stained brown from the chemicals he handled routinely in the developing baths. The acrid odor of those chemicals still clung to his clothes as Edgar knocked the mud from his high-top leather shoes and climbed into the carriage for the mile-and-a-quarter trip through Hopkinsville to a house known to Edgar and Lynn as "The Hill."
The journey was familiar territory for both men. Edgar had traveled it many times on foot and by bicycle during his courtship with Lynn’s sister, Gertrude, and though he now had the luxury of taking a horse and carriage, Cayce knew the unpaved streets of the city and its squat two and three story red-brick buildings as intimately as he knew the dark-room in his photographic studio in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Behind the tear-drop spire on the train station was the downtown business district where Edgar had once clerked at the Hopper Brothers Bookstore. To the east was the block-long tobacco planters warehouse, which had been built by his great uncle George, and which housed the crop that gave Hopkinsville and greater Christian County the distinction of being the largest producer of pipe and chewing tobacco in the nation. Beyond the clock tower on the fire station shone the lights of the Hotel Latham, where he had photographed Theodore Roosevelt during his campaign for president.
Lynn Evans drove the carriage east on the Russellville Road, passing the ivy-covered boys dormitory at South Kentucky College on Belmont Hill. The grand Victorian homes lining the road were painted in rich pastels, and were festooned with scalloped shingles, copper weather vanes, flag poles, and white picket fences. The further they went from the center of town, the less ornate the homes became. The asphalt soon gave way to an unpaved road where the massive wrought iron gates of the Hopkinsville mental asylum, Christian County's largest building, dominated the bleak landscape. The carriage rattled past a few lonely stands of ash and elder trees, shorn of leaves, and the dirt road became two muddy lanes running between the rolling brown hills and the still bare tobacco fields that were the primary source of Hopkinsville's wealth.
The house called The Hill sat on a high promontory a few hundred feet within the city limits. It was a single-story, four-bedroom home of classic Ante-bellum design, painted gun-metal gray and dominated by four white Doric columns. The front of the house had a large open verandah shaded by oak and maple trees. At the rear of the property, separated from the main house by a carriage walk and rose garden, were the kitchen, smoke house, chicken coop, barn, and dog run. The many out-buildings, like the home itself, had been designed and constructed by Dr. Samuel Salter, Lynn and Gertrude's maternal grandfather, a respected civil engineer, an unlicensed physician, and one of the county's leading building contractors.
It had been the late Salter's dream that The Hill would always be a safe-haven for his family and their progeny, and he had seen to it that the house, its adjoining orchard, and ten acres of farm land were free of debt before his death. He had assembled an extensive library of technical and reference books, kept a full store of medical supplies in a large cedar chest in the dining room, and stored enough food in the root cellar and smoke house to feed a family of eight for an entire year. It wasn't enough, however, that his children be materially independent. In the spirit of Franklin and Jefferson, he desired all five of his children—three daughters and two sons—to become free thinkers. He sent them all to college, where they studied Plato and Shakespeare, and urged them to read newspapers, attend rallies, and engage in intellectual discussion. Their opinion counted, no matter what political or social cause they chose to support.
To Edgar Cayce, who had been born in a tiny frame cottage on a remote Christian County farm, who had ended his formal education at the age of sixteen in a single-room school house, and whose mother and sisters didn't dare to express an opinion of their own, The Hill held an attraction that went beyond his love for Gertrude and his affection for Lynn Evans. The Hill was an intellectual hot-house that both stimulated and challenged his deeply-felt notions of religion and spirituality. At The Hill, Edgar didn't feel the need to confine his creative interests to the darkroom or adopt a set of arcane rules practiced and preached by the church elders. He could freely explore a part of himself that he had kept hidden from his pastor and from his clients at the photo studio. At The Hill, he was free, as Lynn liked to say, "to experiment."
As the carriage approached the main entrance, Edgar felt the familiar sense of security that accompanied all of his trips to The Hill. Lynn brought the horse to a halt, and as he tended to the carriage, Edgar walked quickly up the muddy path to the verandah where he was greeted by Hugh Evans, Lynn's older brother. The two briefly exchanged pleasantries before coming into the parlor where the rest of the family was gathered around the fire place. Gertrude and Lynn's mother, Kate, was there, along with their Aunt Elizabeth and her son Hiram, and their Aunt Carrie and her husband, Dr. Thomas House. Everyone's attention was focused on Carrie and Thomas's infant son, Thomas House Jr., who lay on a small, white, embroidered pillow in his mother’s lap.
The infant had been suffering convulsions since his pre-mature birth three months earlier. The convulsions had become so frequent that they now occurred every twenty minutes, leaving the helpless child too weak to nurse from his mother's bosom or to wrap his tiny hands around her fingers. Tommy House was literally dying from malnutrition and lack of sleep, a diagnosis confirmed by the child's father, a doctor, and by the family's two personal physicians, Dr. Jackson, a general practitioner in Hopkinsville, and Dr. Haggard, a pediatric specialist from Nashville who had been attending the child since birth. Although the three doctors disagreed about what treatment they should provide, all agreed that Thomas House Jr. had little or no chance of living through the night.
They now turned to Edgar Cayce, a photographer with an eighth grade education and no medical training, to save little Tommy's life. Carrie wasn't sure Edgar could help her son—no more than Edgar himself—but she wanted him to try. In previous "experiments," Cayce had demonstrated to her a remarkable ability to put himself into a hypnotic trance and obtain medical and other information that she believed was beyond the grasp of ordinary people.
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 and 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 have their portraits taken. 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 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 the results.
The mere arrival of Cayce at The Hill was enough to provoke Dr. Haggard to pack his bags and leave. Like many doctors in Hopkinsville and the surrounding area, he had heard accounts of Cayce's alleged powers and wanted no part of his "trickery." Dr. Jackson shared his colleague's skepticism, but as the family's long-time physician, he had seen Cayce do things that he could not readily explain. Dr. House was also skeptical, but he also knew Cayce too intimately to believe that trickery was involved. The Cayces were simple tobacco farmers from the rural hamlet of Beverly, and Edgar was the least educated and most unassuming of the lot. House had reluctantly agreed to call Edgar to The Hill only because House's headstrong wife, Carrie, had insisted he be consulted.
Doctors House and Jackson accompanied Edgar from the parlor into the master bedroom across the hall. Inside, Edgar took off his jacket and shoes, removed his tie and collar, and laid himself down on the embroidered linen bedspread covering the large oak bed. He pulled a down comforter over his stocking feet, adjusted himself on his back, and then, feet together, hands across his chest, he laid back in bed and stared at the ceiling.
More than a minute passed. In a silence broken only by the rain pounding on the roof and the weak cries of the dying child in the next room, Edgar's breathing deepened and his eyes closed. "You have before you the body of Thomas House Jr. of Hopkinsville, Kentucky," Dr. House said. "Diagnose his illness and recommend a cure."
By all appearances, Edgar was fast asleep—his arms crossed, legs straight, eyes closed, his breathing slow—but Dr. House knew better. He had once seen the young photographer go into a trance so deep that fellow physicians thought he was in a coma. When one of House's colleagues had jabbed the blade of a knife under one of Cayce's finger-nails and another had stuck a hypodermic needle into his foot, he had not even flinched. And yet, the "sleeping" Cayce could answer questions as if he were wide awake.
Cayce began to speak in his normal voice: a deep, rich baritone with a distinctly southern accent. At first his words were garbled, almost a hum, and then, like a phonograph needle that has found the groove on a record, his voice cleared and his words became well modulated and easy to understand. "Yes, we have the body and mind of Thomas House Jr. here," he finally said.
Cayce proceeded to report the infant's temperature, blood pressure, and other physical and anatomical details of his body organs. He described the child's condition in such a cool, calm, and detached manner that an observer would have been left with the impression that he was a physician describing to fellow colleagues an examination he was in the process of conducting. In this case, however, the physician had his eyes closed and his patient was cradled in his mother's arms in the next room. Cayce appeared to have the ability to see right into his patient’s body, to examine each organ, blood vessel, and artery with microscopic precision.
Doctors House and Jackson listened intently as Cayce described an epileptic condition that had caused severe infantile spasms, nausea, and vomiting—evidently the outcome of the child's premature birth—which in turn had been the result of his mother's poor physical condition during the early months of her pregnancy. Cayce prescribed a measured dose of belladonna, administered orally, to be followed by wrapping the infant in a steaming hot poultice made from the bark of a peach tree. Cayce ended the trance session himself when he stated, "We are through for the present."
House instructed the "sleeping" Cayce to regain consciousness. Cayce dutifully followed instructions and awoke, only to find himself alone in the bedroom. In the two or three minutes it took him to open his eyes and stretch his arms, the two doctors, deep in discussion, and agitated by what he had said, left the room and returned to the parlor.
As unbelievable as the source of the information was, House and Jackson both agreed that the diagnosis sounded perfectly reasonable. It was the recommended cure that upset them, for the "sleeping" Cayce had prescribed an unusually high dose of a toxic form of deadly nightshade. Even if the peach-tree poultice could somehow leach the poison out of the infant's system, administering such a large dose of belladonna to a child as small and weak as Thomas House Jr. was tantamount to murder. Jackson expressed his sentiments to his colleague and the child's mother in no uncertain terms: "You'll kill little Tommy for sure," he said.
Tommy's father had no choice but to agree. Although homeopathic belladonna was sometimes used to treat lung and kidney ailments, pure belladonna, in the form Cayce recommended, was used only in topical ointments and was certainly not something to spoon into the mouth of a three-month-old-child.
Edgar joined the two doctors in the parlor but couldn't contribute to the discussion taking place. He had never been able to remember anything he had said or heard in a trance state, and had little more than a rudimentary knowledge of medicine or the medical profession in his waking state. Even so, he grew more and more concerned as he listened to the doctors' ensuing debate. Until now, his sessions had been an experiment—a way of seeing if his abilities could help the people who came to him. He now had to face the grim reality that something he had said in a trance might result in the death of a family member.
It was the child's mother who made the decision to administer the drug. Having seen Cayce work miracles in his sleep, she believed that he was touched by the Divine, that a heavenly spirit spoke through him when he was in a trance. In previous experiments, she herself had been advised not to undergo an abdominal surgery recommended by her doctors, which indeed turned out to be unnecessary. Cayce had also predicted that she would become pregnant, something that her husband and two specialists had said was physically impossible. He also predicted the date of birth and said she would deliver a boy. And the spiritual message accompanying this information—that God's love and forgiveness must be foremost in her heart—had inspired her to minister to the patients at the Hopkinsville asylum. Now, she believed, God's mercy, love and compassion was reaching out to her. If Edgar Cayce said that she had to poison her son in order to save his life, then that was what she was going to do.
Dr. House could not make the same leap of faith. As a highly respected general practitioner with aspirations to become the county health commissioner, everything he had seen and heard in the bedroom ran contrary to his training, experience, and common sense. Although he was aware of the experiments at The Hill, he hadn't condoned them, nor given them much credence. He had permitted his wife to participate because she derived pleasure and comfort from them. He had looked upon Edgar's activities as entertainment, a mere parlor game. But what he had just seen and heard in the bedroom a few moments earlier terrified him. Cayce hadn't spoken in terms that were open for interpretation. Without physically examining Tommy, Cayce had recited the child's blood pressure and temperature, figures that House knew to be correct because he and Jackson had taken them a few minutes before Edgar's arrival at The Hill. Cayce had also described body organs with the expertise of a skilled surgeon conducting an autopsy. House didn't dare let himself speculate why Cayce had used the plural form "we" when conducting his trance examination, or why he apparently needed to contact little Thomas's "mind" as well as his "body" before the examination could proceed.
At his wife's insistence, and despite his very great reservations, House ultimately agreed to prepare the belladonna. He justified the decision by saying that his son would surely die anyway if nothing else was done. He and Dr. Jackson might be able to prolong the infant's life by a few hours, but they were powerless to keep him alive through the night. At the very worst, giving little Tommy belladonna would put the child out of his misery.
Edgar and Lynn Evans went outside to collect the ingredients for the poultice which had been recommended in the treatment. By the light of an oil lamp, Edgar climbed a peach tree in the orchard behind the barn. Using a pen-knife, he skillfully cut the bark from around the youngest shoots he could reach, then handed them down to Lynn Evans. They took the bark to the kitchen at the rear of the house where Aunt Kate had put a kettle on the stove to boil.
Aunt Kate prepared the hot poultice and then carried it into the parlor where Dr. House had already measured out the belladonna. He dissolved the white powder into a spoonful of water, and Carrie forced her son to swallow it. Edgar didn't join the others in the parlor to see what would happen, because, as he later said, he "couldn't stand the thought of seeing Tommy House die in his mother's arms."
Medical records do not exist to describe the child's physiological reaction to the belladonna, or to the steaming hot towels dipped in peach-tree solution in which the naked child was immediately wrapped. All that is known is that the crying stopped as soon as the mother spooned the poison into her child's mouth, and that he fell into his first deep and uninterrupted sleep since birth. Thomas House Jr. awoke hours later, drenched in sweat, cheeks pink, and breathing steadily. He was never to have a convulsion again.
No one at The Hill that night knew who or what force had intervened to save the child's life. They knew only that their lives, like that of little Tommy House, had been irrevocably changed. There was no turning back. The tears in their eyes and the pounding in their hearts told them that what they had experienced could neither be ignored nor denied. Edgar Cayce had saved the child's life.
Dr. House had witnessed something that would make it impossible for him to return to the medical profession as he knew it. Twenty years later, he would close his practice and dedicate the remainder of his career to operating a hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which would be devoted to Edgar Cayce and his healing arts. Carrie House would become the Cayce hospital's supervising nurse, and an outspoken proponent of the Divine "message" that she believed was being communicated through the man to whom the hospital was dedicated. Thomas House Jr. would grow up and spend his adult life designing and building innovative medical technology based on Cayce's trance readings, and, at great personal expense, would frequently drive hundreds of miles to deliver readings to patients unable to come to Virginia Beach.
Edgar Cayce also had undergone a change: he had once again proven to himself that good might come from his special talents. He had taken one of his first apprehensive and faltering steps away from the refuge of his darkroom and a step closer to the moment he would, as he later said, "step out into the light" and turn himself over to what became known simply as "Cayce's work," or "the work." Foremost among his many challenges would be overcoming the fear and trepidation he experienced each and every time he went into trance: never knowing what might happen when he closed his eyes, what he might say while he was "under," and whether or not he would be able to open his eyes when the session ended.
In the years ahead, "the work" would become such an integral part of Edgar Cayce's life that it would be impossible to separate the man from his trance induced communications. There were times when giving readings would be his sole source of income, when the readings threatened to tear his family apart, and when they became all that held them 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 then reviled as an agent of the Devil. But he would continue giving readings, twice a day, virtually every day, on topics as diverse as cures for breast cancer and arthritis to the design of the universe and the purpose of man's existence on earth. No subject was off-limits. He would provide trance commentary on Jesus and his disciples, the role of women in the founding of Christianity, and the secret of the Sphinx. He would offer 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 would end 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 vary in length from several single-spaced typed pages to twenty or more—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 Gertrude's worry that her husband was slowly going insane, and might, one day, have to be put into the Hopkinsville asylum, she would devote her life to conducting his trance sessions and battling the ever-present financiers and speculators who sought to use and exploit him. Also accompanying Edgar on this journey would be Gladys Davis, a dedicated young Alabama 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" would raise the level of Edgar's trance readings to that of an art form.
Edgar Cayce’s partners through the years included physicians, stock-brokers, inventors, soldiers, film producers and Texas oil-men. These men would help build the Cayce Hospital in Virginia Beach and establishing 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 law suits, they also brought Cayce many hundreds of grateful recipients of his trance counsel. As his son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, would say, "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 "phenomena," and neither did police and FBI agents who launched their own investigation as to how Edgar Cayce 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 lime-light, confounded and confused them. As novelist and psychic researcher Arthur Conan Doyle described Cayce: "He was in a class all his own."
From hundreds of pages of sensational documents, and correspondence that have never before been made public, it is now clear that such luminaries as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla had trance readings by Cayce, as did engineers at RCA, IBM, Delco, and the president and founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Inventor Mitchell Hastings credited Cayce with helping him to develop FM radio. NBC founder David Sarnoff and his family had secret readings. Remarkable technological and electronic designs provided 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, and Gloria Swanson. Readings were conducted for the concerned mother of Ernest Hemingway, who consulted Cayce about her son's writing career. Marilyn Monroe practiced beauty aids that Cayce recommended in trance. Business leader Nelson Rockefeller and labor organizer George Meany availed themselves of Cayce's medical advice. Carl Laemmle of Universal Studios, Harry Goetz of Paramount Pictures, and legendary film pioneer Thomas Ince studied screenplays dictated during Cayce's trance sessions.
High ranking foreign diplomats and church leaders consulted Cayce, as did government agents and politicians who sought and obtained trance readings which they themselves privately conducted and transcribed. And though the details remain hidden, circumstantial evidence suggests that Cayce conducted psychic readings for President Woodrow Wilson, then seeking to make peace in the aftermath of 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 millenium.
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 jailed 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 in his life. And however inseparable the readings were from the man who gave them, it was not his trance communications or the good which came from them which endeared him 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, 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.
Like the engine on the locomotive that had brought him to Hopkinsville to treat Thomas House Jr., a powerful force drove Edgar out of what might otherwise have been a comfortable and ordinary existence as a church deacon, photographer, and husband. Exactly where he was going, and what he would find when he arrived, were questions he hadn't yet answered on that cold February night—nor had he, in fact, even begun to ask them. That his journey would be worthwhile was not in doubt. The life of Thomas House Jr. was evidence of that. 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.
As Edgar Cayce, 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."