Meet America's 'Sleeping Prophet'

Meet America's 'Sleeping Prophet'

Edgar Cayce.

SourceEdgar Cayce

Why you should care

Because everyone wants to know what the future holds.

The first thing the young telegraph operator noticed was the black chaise lounge. It was 1935, just four years before the death of Sigmund Freud, and that particular piece of furniture had already become emblematic of psychiatry’s therapeutic method.

But the 29-year-old had not come to this Virginia Beach office to see a shrink — he had come to see the most celebrated clairvoyant in the country, Edgar Cayce. To his surprise, Cayce, a well-dressed man of 68 with gentle blue eyes, walked in the room and explained that he — not the telegrapher — would be reclining on the chaise.

Cayce made thousands of predictions, including the stock market crash of 1929 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls — or so say his supporters.

Cayce then lived up to his nickname, the “Sleeping Prophet,” by falling into a deep slumber in which forces beyond this world reputedly whispered secrets of the past, present and future to him. But the message the young telegrapher received that day went far beyond, say, benevolent messages from a dead relative.

Instead, the entranced psychic intoned that soon the “Austrians, Germans and later the Japanese” would band together until “growing animosities” reached a boiling point. “And unless there is interference from what may be called by many the supernatural forces and influences,” warned Cayce, “the whole world — as it were — will be set on fire by the militaristic groups.…” Almost exactly four years later, in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II.

Sure, an astute student of international affairs in 1935 might have predicted the same outcome, but that’s the kind of anecdote that forms the foundation of the Edgar Cayce legend. Though the name might not ring many bells today, he was the most famous psychic of the first half of the 20th century. Long before flamboyant soothsayers like Theresa Caputo and Miss Cleo graced the screens of daytime television, Cayce reportedly was sought out by Gloria Swanson, George Gershwin, Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities. Biographer Sidney Kirkpatrick claims that President Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Edison were among the thousands of people who flocked to Cayce (pronounced like “Casey”) throughout his 40-year career.

Cayce’s early life reads like a William Faulkner novel. Born into a family of poor Kentucky farmers, Edgar was one of six children. But he diverged from the Southern gothic narrative at a young age, running off to play with strange beings he called “the little folk” and having conversations with his dead grandfather. A lifelong devout Christian, he claimed a beautiful winged woman visited him while he was reading the Bible in the woods. After this encounter, Cayce allegedly discovered that he could absorb information from books simply by sleeping on them and to diagnose cures to illnesses in dreams.

He left school in the ninth grade and spent the rest of his formative years holding down odd jobs. In 1897 he met the love of his life, Gertrude Evans, and the two married six years later.

Cayce’s life changed forever in 1901, when, at age 24, he lost his voice after an aggressive cold. Hypnotism as a form of healing was a fad at the time, and a traveling hypnotist named Hart the Laugh King offered to address Cayce’s chronic laryngitis. While in a trance, Cayce was able to speak normally; when awakened, he could only muster a faint whisper. In a subsequent trance, Cayce self-diagnosed in normal tones: Increase blood flow to the affected areas. Witnesses reputedly watched his upper chest and throat turn bright red. Upon awakening, he was his old self.

That bizarre experience kick-started Cayce’s reputation for “miraculous” cures. Soon, people from all over the country were writing to him, asking for readings or treatments for their illnesses. “A person might wait weeks or even months to receive a reading,” says Cindy Stone, marketing coordinator at Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment.

In the decades that followed, Cayce managed to maintain a relatively low profile, moving to Selma, Alabama, with Gertrude and their three children, where he made a living as a photographer. That all changed in 1923, when Arthur Lammers, an Ohio printer and student of the occult, visited Cayce and asked him to answer the big questions — What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? — while in one of his trances. Cayce agreed and, in doing so, expanded his practice from holistic medicine to metaphysics and soothsaying.

From the 1920s onward, Cayce made thousands of predictions, including the stock market crash of 1929 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls — or so say his supporters. In the 1930s, after moving his practice to Virginia Beach, Cayce began focusing on his psychic and healing capabilities, establishing the Association for Research and Enlightenment and Atlantic University. After months of working exhaustively with the family members of soldiers fighting in World War II, Cayce predicted his own death and died on cue four days later, on Jan. 3, 1945.

During his lifetime Cayce had numerous debunkers, and in the years since his death some howlers have emerged. For example, he predicted that in 1958 the U.S. would discover a “death ray” that was used to destroy Atlantis and that in 1968 China would convert to Christianity. Medical experts scoffed at his use of UVB light and “activated ash” to treat cancer.

So, what else do we have to look forward to? The destruction of the West Coast of the United States and a third world war. Any good news? A drastic extension of human life and the invention of a perpetual motion machine.

Let’s hope Cayce was only right about the last two.

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