Cayce’s Spiritual Milieu

So far, I have been calling Cayce a "syncretizer" without specifying what I propose him to be syncretizing. As a youth, we have seen how Cayce sought out churches and religious groups of all descriptions "seeking I knew not what." Once we eliminate from consideration all those religious traditions which were never really live options for him (e.g., Judaism, Catholicism), what does that leave us with? On the one hand, Cayce was surrounded by mainstream Protestant churches, which were relatively well-established and seen as traditional choices for believers of his ethnic and class background. Fraternal organizations could also be grouped based on their shared social niche and prevailing ideology, although lodges were not considered religious institutions per se. Cayce seems to have taken their legitimacy largely for granted. On the other hand, Cayce was also exposed to several alternative religious movements, including various esoteric and occult groups (which had existed long before Cayce but continued to recombine in ever-changing ways) and breakaway movements within the Protestant fold, such as Adventism and Christian Science. While Cayce never converted, he was very much open to their influence. Some of his borrowings from them consist only of odd details (such as the Book of Mormon's account of the Lost Tribes); in other cases, he accepts their most important teachings (e.g., millenarianism in the case of Adventism, spiritual healing in the case of Christian Science). Alternative health movements were part of the same social milieu as alternative religious movements, whether Christian or occult/esoteric. At the turn of the century, participation in several movements blurred together into what I like to refer to as a "proto-New Age." In contrast, others formed the mainstream religious background, which the alternative movements inevitably reacted against or built upon.

A. The Disciples of Christ and American Protestantism

Cayce's religious affiliation is usually described in terms of his membership in the Christian church, contrary to Kentucky custom I will henceforth refer to by its other name--the Disciples of Christ--to avoid confusion with Christianity in general. This affiliation is accurate concerning his stays in Beverly, Hopkinsville, Louisville, Bowling Green, and Selma- In Dayton, he and his family attended a Church of Christ, which was just beginning to develop a separate identity from the Disciples. In Virginia Beach, only three Protestant denominations were available: Baptist, Methodist. and Presbyterian. Cayce took his family to visit the Baptist church, and after the service, asked the minister if they might join. The minister requested the Cayce's to step outside while he discussed the matter with his congregation. Apparently not realizing that this was standard operating procedure among the Baptists, Cayce assumed that his psychic activities were at issue and offended. "stepped out onto the vestibule and kept right on going onto the sidewalk. and never came back" (as Hugh Lynn put it)(150) The following week the Cayce's visited the Presbyterian church, which Cayce joined. Gertrude attended with him but, for doctrinal reasons, balked at formally joining. Cayce's children were raised Presbyterian, and a Presbyterian minister conducted his funeral.

Cayce could move from one Protestant denomination to another with relative ease, illustrates the extent to which various Protestant denominations formed parts of a common church-oriented subculture. This is true not only in the sense that many mainline Protestants had come to regard their churches as varying "denominations" of a common religious currency (perceived interchangeability which is even more widespread today) but also in that these churches had become accustomed to cooperating in pursuit of common social and political goals. Dwight L. Moody (whom Cayce met as a teenager) is a good representative of this pan-Protestant coalition, has been especially active in such interdenominational parachurch activities as revivals, the YMCA. and the Sunday school movement. (151) Again anticipating Cayce's policies. Moody did not attempt to convert members of other denominations to Congregationalism (which he professed) but encouraged listeners to remain faithful to their own churches. Apparently inspired by Moody, Cayce's involvement with his religion went far beyond regular attendance at Sunday morning services-he taught Sunday school and adult Bible classes for much of his life, led meetings of Christian Endeavor (interdenominational youth groups which studied the Bible competitively), participated in a Glad Helpers society (a group devoted to intercessory prayer for the sick and troubled) in Louisville, and regularly engaged in prison outreach. Therefore, it is unsurprising to find the sleeping Cayce organizing the ARE and his study groups as if they were similar paradenominational groups. The Search for God books follows the topical pattern of turn-of-the-century devotional literature. The recommended study group format emphasizes Bible study and Christian prayer. The sleeping Cayce led the ARE to conduct prison outreach and even chose "Glad Helpers" for an ARE-affiliated intercessory prayer group. Bro writes that in their tempo and quality of dynamic, the Cayce associates frequently conformed to the fellowship of a church group, lodge (more fraternal than occult), or private social service institution like the YMCA or a college whose alumni they might be. (152)

Today the church atmosphere continues to be visible in some aspects of the ARE (e.g., Glad Helpers meetings), although it now competes with New Age elements.

The roots of this mainline Protestant subculture may be traced to the westward emigration of white North American settlers from the Atlantic seacoast in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For a variety of reasons, their traditional religious institutions did not immediately follow. When the resulting decline in religious involvement in the western areas was finally reversed with the Second Great Awakening at the turn of the nineteenth century, some churches were vastly more outgoing and effective at frontier missionary work than others: the Methodists gifted with the effective organization (for example. they stumbled upon the concept of circuit-riding preachers): the Baptists, for some reasons including their simple message and lax educational standards for preachers; the Presbyterians, owing to their ethnic ties with the numerous settlers of Scots ancestry as well as a strategic partnership with the Congregationalists: and the Christians or Disciples of Christ, a new, American-born movement. Despite doctrinal differences and competition for new believers, representatives of all these denominations often cooperated in organizing camp meetings and revivals, which were effective means of drawing support for more permanent churches.

Just as the English radical Reformers and German pietists had sought to bypass the authority of the state Protestant churches of Europe, so did doctrinal and cultural frictions often arise in American churches between denominational headquarters and their frontier congregations. The issues involved included the independence of local churches; the degree of democracy in church decisions., the desirability of a professional clergy; the appropriateness of emotional behavior during church services; the Arminian theology perceived to be implicit in revivalism (to Calvinists, one's status as saved or damned is pre-established and cannot be altered by a decision to convert): and the admission of unbaptized persons or persons outside the denomination to the Lord's Supper (an important consideration in an era when churches were scarce). A recurring theme in the radical Reformation to which American churches have often returned is that of Restorationism. i.e., the -intent to revitalize Christianity by returning it to its original, pristine teachings and practices as recounted in the Bible. Details reinstituted on this basis variously included the full-immersion baptism of adult believers, pacifism, the refusal to take oaths or acknowledge rank- faith-healing, millennialism, possession by the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, communal ownership of property, unconventional sexual and marital arrangements, a governance system modeled after that of the apostles, recognition of Friday/Saturday as the biblical Sabbath, foot-washing, prophecy, an insistence on the use of the divine name, and the rejection of belief in the Trinity or the immortality of the soul. Following Luther and Calvin, American Protestants tended to assume that lack of education or good judgment would pose no essential bar to the ability of a believer to understand and interpret scripture. However, church norms typically functioned as a safeguard against excessive creativity.

The group now known as the Disciples of Christ illustrates these tendencies well. The Disciples are the result of a merger between two movements, one led by Barton Stone in Kentucky beginning in 1801 or 1804 (the Christians, or less formally, "Stories") and the other led by Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander in Pennsylvania beginning in 1809 (the "Campbellites"). Both Stone (1772-1844) and the elder Campbell (1763-1854) (153) were dissident Presbyterian ministers who had left their respective presbyteries, the former over the issue of creedal requirements (which he regarded as unbiblical) and the latter over the issue of open communion. Stone led his congregation to secede along with him; the Campbells were forced to preach in private homes by contrast. In 1809 Thomas Campbell called a series of meetings of his supporters to organize the Christian Association of Washington, open to Christians of all denominations (but consisting mainly of Presbyterians) who sought to restore the unity thought to have been current among the primitive Christians. Present-day Disciples regard the "Declaration and Address" adopted by the group as a founding document. The group also resolved to eschew the artificial labels corresponding to their old denominations, urging their followers to refer to themselves simply as "Christians." This move was felt to be in keeping with the principle that all church practice should be derived from the Bible--after all, the Bible refers to "Christians" (e.g., Acts 11:26), but never to "Methodists" or "Presbyterians." (The Stoneites and several other groups had independently reached the same conclusion.) Thomas Campbell denied intending to start another denomination--on the contrary, he saw the existence of divisions within Christianity as something shameful. Instead. he encouraged his followers to remain in their churches, working from within to bring them into conformity with New Testament principles. "Unity," which was conceived somewhat vaguely, would come from the various denominations' returning to their common source, the Bible. As Campbell famously put it, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent." (154)

Cayce similarly urged members of the first Search for God study group not to turn their group into a primary religious body:

But DO NOT allow these [study group lessons] to become other than supplementary aids to individuals in their preparation for service in their OWN selected manner; that is, do not become an ism, laying down laws as to the morals or as to any set rules. For those as having been set have ONE-the Christ! [262-100]

While the Disciples are far from the only possible source for Cayce's ecumenicalism, Cayce's specific resistance to "schisms and isms" suggests something of their anti-creedalism, although he does not go so far as to reject creeds altogether:

For, in God. in the Son, in the Holy Spirit, there is NO creed; for creeds are only artificial. And remember that creeds are like those things that are done as In rote. However, to some rote becomes necessary.... [2420-1]

At one point, the elder Campbell attempted to have his group recognized by a different Presbyterian synod, only to have his overtures spurned. Burned by the rejection, the Christian Association chose their new leader, Campbell's son Alexander (1788-1866), a former Presbyterian preacher. The younger Campbell was more radical, even sharp-tongued, in his criticism of other religious movements. He rejected creeds: advocated a congregational system of governance as the only system authorized by the Bible, and became convinced that contrary to the Presbyterian norm, baptism of adult believers by immersion was the method prescribed by the scriptures. The similarity with Baptist theology appeared overwhelming, leading the Campbellites to seek and win recognition as Baptists. Throughout the period of union with the Baptists (1813 to 1830), the Campbellites retained a somewhat different culture and agenda, which led them to leave the Baptist fold eventually. Several theological controversies were cited at the time, among them the younger Campbell's contention that the New Testament is more authoritative than the Old and his opposition to missionary societies as an unacceptable transfer of power away from the congregations. In 1832. two years after the split, the "Reformed Baptists" (as the Campbellites now called themselves) merged with the Stoneites due to spontaneous popular enthusiasm for the move on the part of their members. Their zeal appears to have been driven by the Campbellites' desire to meet in formal churches, which the Stonites (like the Baptists before them) possessed but the Campbellites lacked: and also by the Stonites' desire for an enlarged membership. Alexander Campbell, who might have objected to the new development, was essentially presented with a fait accompli. The name issue was avoided by allowing congregations to choose from among "the Christian Church" (favored by Stone), "the Disciples of Christ" (favored by Alexander Campbell), and "the Church of Christ" (a name which was eventually informally ceded to the non-instrumental churches). This time the merger was a success. The combined movement attracted converts from across the West. growing from about eight thousand Stonites and five thousand Campbellites at the merger to nearly 120,000 members of the combined movement in 1850. (155) Most of the increase is attributable to the efforts of traveling preachers. Besides Alexander Campbell, another influential evangelist for the Disciples was Walter Scott (not to be confused with the author of Ivanhoe). (156) The Great Revival of 1858-1859, in which most American Protestant denominations participated, brought a final growth spurt before the onset of the American Civil War.

Cayce alludes to this period of frontier evangelism in a 1944 reading supporting missionary work (a perennial concern of the waking Cayce as well). Missions were the subject of several controversies among American Protestants: Calvinist-oriented Baptists rejected its assumption of free will over predestination; Baptists and Disciples looked upon supracongregational missionary societies with suspicion, and liberal Protestants questioned whether converting the heathen was necessary to their salvation. Cayce says:

For if you can't spend a thousand dollars to preach the word. you can give ten cents and preach more in what you say and do to people ye meet every day. Yet the entity has experienced, and may yet experience, that unless the missionary is sent, those others may heathenize even America unless the missionary goes to others. For, to be sure. civilization again moves westward. (157) [5112-1]

Why would Cayce imagine "civilization" to be specifically Christian in character and to be moving westward? The answer lies in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century efforts on the part of Protestant churches to mobilize their members in support of various benevolent causes to raise the morale and cultural level of American society. To that end, several denominational and ecumenical voluntary societies were organized. Many of these were dedicated to essentially religious goals such as supporting missionary work at home or abroad (or among American Indians), distributing Bibles and religious tracts, or organizing Sunday schools. Other initiatives that transcended their religious origins included abolition, the temperance movement, prison reform, numerous aid, relief societies, the YTVICA and YWCA, universal primary education, the building of public hospitals, and the establishment of colleges and universities. At the turn of the century, liberal clergy (in a movement known as the "social gospel") pushed various "progressive" labor measures, including child labor legislation, minimum wage laws, and the eight-hour day. The turn-of-the-century strength of this pan-Protestant subculture is difficult to appreciate when judged by the present-day successors of its constituent churches.

Over the years, the Disciples became less of an alternative movement protesting denominationalism than a traditional denomination in its own right. As the leader of a thriving movement that demanded sophisticated levels of organization and support, Alexander Campbell set aside many of his earlier misgivings about supra congregational institutions. He decided that paid preachers, divinity schools, missionary societies, and national conventions were permissible after all. The irony was by no means lost on the Disciples, some of whom reacted to the trend with considerable rancor. These theological qualms were compounded (and quite possibly driven) by Civil War-era political disputes, notably Southern anger over a resolution of loyalty to the United States pushed through by Northern delegates. Lacking strong leadership after Alexander Campbell's death in 1866, the widening rift led to the first of several de facto schisms. Among the doctrinal issues cited were the emergent denominationalism and controversy over the use of instrumental music during church services. Remember that it is sometimes difficult to determine exactly when a schism has occurred under a congregational system. Some Christian congregations refused to participate in quasi-denominational structures without thereby ceasing to identify with the Disciples of Christ, while others only gradually developed a separate identity apart from the Disciples. With that caveat. in 1906, the non-instrumental churches (which were primarily Southern, rural, and conservative) began publishing a separate yearbook from the other Christian churches. In 1927 another schism resulted in the wake of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy when a group of conservative churches departed. Formal admission that the Disciples were, in fact, a denomination would not come until 1968 when another reorganization provoked still more defections.

Cayce's Disciples upbringing left him with a lens through which his interpretation of Christianity would forever be Filtered. He would turn to the Bible for guidance, whether awake or asleep, rather than to particular creeds, institutions, or authority figures. In this, he follows a pattern set by the Disciples and other Restorationists. Even the Trinity, held by most Christians to be a central tenet of their faith despite its absence from the Bible, is interpreted cosmologically rather than personally in the Cayce readings (as we shall see in chapter five). Many Disciples denied the Trinity outright, though others accepted it. As for institutions, Cayce, like the Disciples, sought a truth that transcended them and served as a foundation for them all. Like the New Light Presbyterians from which elements of Disciples theology sprang, Cayce affirmed the role of transformative spiritual experience; at the same time, like the Disciples, he did not insist that such experiences were necessary to salvation but saw them as useful sources of guidance, to be evaluated pragmatically. Yet Cayce was more than a Disciple. he was an enthusiastic participant in the pan-Protestant movement, responsible for some of the most important social and intellectual achievements of his day.

Several factors conspired to bring about the decline of this coalition and many component churches. In the face of scientific and scholarly evidence arguing against the literal truth of various biblical accounts, Christians disagreed as to how much accommodation to these new views was called for. The resulting fundamentalist/modernist controversy first causing serious political division within Baptist and Presbyterian churches during the 1920s. That rift combined with controversy over social issues (e.g., women's suffrage, the race question) to politically divide churches. In addition to these secular challenges, increasing religious pluralism made Protestantism appear somewhat smaller in the grand scheme of things. An influx of Catholic and Jewish immigration forced Protestants to concede legitimacy to these religions and eventually speak of the United States as a "Judeo-Christian" nation rather than a Protestant commonwealth. Eastern religious ideas became popularized First by New England Transcendentalism, then by Theosophy, with Vedanta and Theravada Buddhism representatives featured prominently at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Meanwhile, several Protestant offshoots, such as the Mormons and Adventists, overcame societal ridicule and suspicion to win converts, build enduring institutions, and in the process test the boundaries of Protestant identity. Perhaps the most serious setbacks for mainline Protestantism took the form of secular trends such as heightened geographic mobility, the decline of the extended family (and later of the nuclear family), and the increasing availability of popular entertainment capable of competing with church life. In this respect, the fate of mainline Protestant churches has resembled the similar disappearance of indigenous cultural institutions elsewhere in the wake of global economic integration, consumerism, and mass media. However, the full effect of these trends would not be felt until well after Cayce's death.

B. Fraternalism

Cayce's life coincided with the golden age of fraternalism in the United States, which lasted from the Civil War until the Great Depression. In 1897, out of an adult male population of nineteen million, some 5.4 million were members of at least one of the hundred or so fraternal orders in existence at that time, the largest being the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (founded 1820: 810.000 members in 1897), the Masons (date of founding uncertain: 750,000 members in 1897). and the Knights of Pythias (475,000 members)(158). Fraternities and their ladies and youth auxiliaries typically offered ritualism, social entertainment, networking opportunities, and charitable projects to support. The first college fraternities, which began to appear in the early nineteenth century, filled similar functions. Other fraternities were oriented toward politics, ranging from the reactionary Southern nationalism of the original Ku Klux Klan (founded 1866) to the populist agrarianism of the Patrons of Husbandry (the "Grange," founded 1867). However, these also had ritual and dogmatic elements. Many appealed to minority groups, either out of ethnic or religious solidarity (e.g., B'nai B'rith, the Sons of Italy, the Knights of Columbus) or excluding the larger fraternities (e.g., Prince Hall Masonry). Charitable societies such as the Lions Club or the Rotary Club, though not fraternal in the sense of emphasizing ritual or secrecy, nevertheless deserve consideration in this context. Many distinctive elements of the Boy Scouts also stem from fraternalism, including their use of a special handshake, uniforms and badges of rank, rituals, social-service emphasis, and half-mythical Scouting lore (which took on an American Indian flavor in the United States). Finally, one of the most important types of fraternity to arise was the benefits society formed specifically to offer 'insurance to its members. The first of these was the Ancient Order of United Workingmen (1868: since merged with the Woodmen of the World) and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868).

We have already seen that a Masonic Iodize was located in Beverly and that several of Cayce's relatives were members. At the same time, I doubt that either Cayce or his father were initiated, Masons. (159) they would inevitably have been exposed to a certain amount of Masonic culture and tradition from those around them. (Many years later. Cayce's close friend David Kahn was an active Mason.) Fraternalism thrived in Hopkinsville, which boasted several orders in addition to the Masons. Turning to other fraternal orders, the annual Elks parade and carnival was a major fall social event, with various fraternities fielding brass bands or drill teams in elaborate historical costumes. Both Cayce and his father were Woodmen of the World Lodge No. 5 (in Hopkinsville), which they joined in selling the fraternity's life insurance. Cayce remained a member for more than a decade and even became a lodge treasurer while in Selma.

It seems appropriate to begin with Freemasonry, the oldest and best-known fraternity though not always the largest. Masonic tradition variously traces the fraternity's origins to the teachings of Euclid in ancient Egypt. the construction of Solomon's Temple (the Hiram Abiff myth), lodges of medieval British stonemasons, remnants of the Knights Templar. or hidden masters in the Orient. All of these explanations are problematic, although, of course, not equally so. The stonemasonry theory has been the most commonly accepted among legitimate historians, although the Templar theory (a familiar topic among crackpot occultists and conspiracy enthusiasts) has recently gained respect. Yet another possibility is that the Masons' predecessors are to be sought among the pre-Christian cults or Männerbunde of Scotland. It is generally agreed that the oldest documentary evidence of Freemasonry per se is the fourteenth-century Regius manuscript and the fifteenth-century Cooke manuscript, both of which belong to the genre known as "Old Charges" (i.e., lists of duties). In addition. Royal Society founder Elias Ashmole's diary indicates that he was initiated into a Freemasons lodge in 1646. Before 1717 the Masons constituted a secret society in the full sense of the word. until their existence was finally made public with the formation of the Grand Lodge of London out of four constituent lodges. If their ranks ever 'included genuine stonemasons, by the time the Masons enter the historical record, they consisted primarily if not exclusively of members of the nobility and intelligentsia. From its roots in the British Isles, Freemasonry spread to France, where it was organized and promoted by Andrew Michael Ramsay (known to Masonic tradition as Chevalier Ramsay in recognition of his knighthood in the Order of Saint Lazarus). Inspired by a chivalric revival. The French Masons began conducting elaborate initiation rites complete with ornate props and costumes. The result proved highly marketable, and numerous "higher grades" surfaced, which claimed, some perhaps truthfully, to trace their pedigrees to the medieval period. These innovations found their way back to the British Isles and incorporated into new lodges in Germany. Italy, Russia, Spain, Latin America, and especially the British Empire (including the United States). In the nineteenth century, the higher degrees were harmonized somewhat with the Memphis Rite, Scottish Rite, and York Rite (including the Masonic Knights Templar and Royal Arch Masonry) being organized separately from the three "symbolic" degrees (i.e., the first three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason), though intimately related with them.

Those who wish to become Masons apply (or in the past were invited) to their local lodge, called the Blue Lodge in the United States, which evaluates candidates according to a blackball system. If a candidate is deemed worthy, he initiates the first degree (for a fee) using a secret ritual. then introduced to the lodge members and officers. Freemasonry is intensely hierarchical. Masons may not reveal the rituals of any degree to those who have not been initiated into it (although realistically, most Masonic "secrets" seem to have found their way into publication), and lodge officers are accorded considerable deference (e.g., the form of address, "Worshipful Master"). Over time a Mason may take on additional degrees and/or become an officer in his lodge; on the other hand, he need not attend lodge meetings at all, so long as his dues are paid up. The highest authorities in Freemasonry proper are the Grand Masters of the Grand Lodges, who have jurisdiction over all the lodges within a certain area (e.g., a nation or a U.S. state). At the international level, recognition and agreements are established on a bilateral basis. Today the most important rift in mutual recognition existed between the Grand Lodge of France-which in 1877 ceased requiring that French Masons believe in God--and the British and American lodges, which consider the Grand Lodge of France to have abandoned a "landmark" (i.e., fundamental tradition) of Freemasonry. In the United States, Prince Hall Masonry, which is overwhelmingly black, has not been recognized by the main body of Masons owing (ostensibly) to concerns over whether its founders were legitimately initiated.

In some ways, Masonic lodges have historically functioned as upper-class men's clubs. In the British Empire, the Masons have typically numbered among the most reliable members of the establishment. Elsewhere their elite membership has not prevented them from engaging in the occasional act of political subversion. For example, Benito Juarez, Bolivar, Garibaldi, and many of the American Founding Fathers took advantage of their Masonic connections in plotting their respective revolutions. However, their enemies were often Masons as well, and French lodges have often figured prominently in anticlerical agitation. (In 1736, Pope Clement XII forbade Catholics from becoming Masons on pain of ex-communication, although this ruling has since been relaxed.) Freemasonry's emphasis on ritual and symbolism suggests a connection with religion. While Masons do not consider their fraternity to be a religion, per see, many of its rituals and practices assume the truth of God, the Bible. or Christianity. Whereas eighteenth-century American Masons favored symbols drawn from Hermeticism and Enlightenment Deism (hence the peculiar design of the Great Seal of the United States), in Cayce's day, the prevailing Masonic ideology followed that of the American civil religion, which essentially consisted of the lowest common denominator from among the mainline Protestant denominations with a thick classical overlay. Despite a quasi-official operating theology, Masonic tradition respects non-Christian religions and admits members from various world religions (though not atheists, again except in France). Tolerance is prescribed, with disputes about religion or politics expressly forbidden at lodge meetings. Of course, there is an enormous gap between the theory, which held that free adult males of any race or religion might join, and the reality, in which American lodges were at times strongly inclined to blackball those who were either non-white or non-Protestant. The exclusion of women, by contrast, is generally considered a landmark of Freemasonry and has been overturned only by a few dissident European groups (although American lodges have established a women's auxiliary, the Order of the Eastern Star).

Esotericism has long been a traditional minority interest within Masonic circles. In the eighteenth century Count, Cagliostro sought support for an "Egyptian Rite" (based largely on biblical imagery, including symbols from the Book of Revelation). He claimed great antiquity. He hoped would provide the structure whereby the disparate rites of Freemasonry would be united. Cagliostro was thrown into prison by the Inquisition. Where he died in 1795, his Egyptian Rite attracted attention but ultimately failed to win general acceptance among Masons. Ever since, Freemasonry has witnessed periodic attempts, some successful, to introduce rites emphasizing esoteric or occult themes. Important writers from this tradition would have included Arthur Edward Waite and Albert Pike in the nineteenth century and Manly Palmer Hall in the twentieth (although he became a Mason well after writing his main books on Freemasonry). Waite was a student of Kabbalah; Pike (who wrote the constitution for the nineteenth-century Ku Klux Klan) favored allegorical interpretations of the Bible to reveal doctrines first suggested by Eliphas Levi; while Hall (who wrote hundreds of books on occult or esoteric subjects) concentrated on neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, and Theosophy. Some occultists whose teachings were largely drawn from speculative Freemasonry ultimately formed separate movements. Among them was Joseph Smith, who incorporated many Masonic carryovers into the priestly order of Melchizedek within the Mormon church: Madame Blavatsky, whose Theosophical Society was at least partially inspired by Freemasonry: and S.L. MacGregor Mathers, founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and sponsor of Aleister Crowley. Another of Mathers' students was his fellow Mason Gerald Gardner. a major figure in creating twentieth-century Wicca or witchcraft. (160)

Cayce occasionally refers to Freemasonry by name, as in this remarkable 1931 reading:

For, with those changes that will be wrought, Americanism--the ism--with the universal thought expressed and manifested in the brotherhood of man into group thought, as expressed by the Masonic Order, will be the eventual rule in settlement of affairs in the world. The world is to become a Masonic order, but the principles embraced in the same will be the basis on which the new order of peace is to be established in '44 and '45. [1152-11]

Apart from its high degree of accuracy (161), this passage is noteworthy for its reflection of a belief common among American Masons and others to the effect that the United States is destined to provide spiritual leadership for the world. Dumenil points out that despite their international character. Masons during the 1920s took great pains to identify their order with "one-hundred-percent Americanism." (162). In practice, this amounted to opposition to "Bolshevism" and immigration, along with (although this was a highly divisive issue within Masonry) considerable support for the Ku Klux Klan among rank-and-file Masons. Some Masons tried to identify a middle path between Communism and the capitalism of the Robber Barons. Many were led by the inadequacy of charity to advocate a more corporatist economic system in which various sectors of the economy would be planned and harmonized, a political vision which Cayce elsewhere seems to endorse (e.g., 3976-19).

The readings are full of Masonic allusions, although again, this need not suggest that Cayce was an initiated Mason. For example, much speculative Masonic lore centers around allegorical interpretations of the Christian Bible. At the same time, a similar mixture of biblical and esoteric traditions is present in the Cayce readings. To begin with. Cayce refers to Jesus's initiation through a series of degrees in Egypt (e.g., 3) 15-5). Besides the obviously Masonic concepts of initiation and degrees, turn-of-the-century Freemasonry often wrapped biblical themes in ancient Egyptian motifs, following the pattern set by Cagliostro. In addition, Cayce sees geometry as containing deep spiritual insights (341-1), a quintessentially Masonic notion. The letter "G" in the Masonic symbol is sometimes said to stand for "geometry," although American Masons usually interpret it as standing for "God." The Royal Arch degree is known as the "Knight of East and West" even uses the symbolism of the Book of Revelation in an initiatory context, as does Cayce.

One of the most interesting parallels between Cayce and speculative Masonic tradition is Cayce's interpretation of the ground plan of the Mosaic Tabernacle as symbolic of the three levels of human nature, namely body, mind. and spirit (2067-1). In Freemasonry. much speculation centers around the ground plan of Solomon's Temple, which, like the Mosaic Tabernacle, was divided into three courts. For example, Manly P. Hall links the three divisions of the Temple with the three symbolic degrees and the three divisions of human nature (body, mind, and "heart" or soul). (163) MacBride writes of an "ideal Temple" which continues to exist even after the destruction of the physical Temple. (164) Cayce uses similar language about another temple, the Temple Beautiful:

Ye ask, where is this now? Disintegrated and in that sphere, ye may enter, and some have entered, where these are sealed as with the seven seals of the law in that these experiences now become like those of thine activities among thy fellow man. [281-25]

While the Temple Beautiful was Egyptian rather than Palestinian, some Masonic historians (e.g., Mackey) trace Solomon's Temple to an Egyptian prototype. (165)

Lest any doubt remain as to the presence of Masonic influences in the Cayce readings, directingct attention to the symbolic "aura chartsthatch Cayce designed for about a dozen people. One of these includes "the letter G crossed by the compass ... and square" as well as a candelabrum (2072-7). Indeed, many of the aura charts resemble nothing so much as eighteenth-century designs for Masonic aprons. Another (404-1) features a cross with a brazen serpent. Cayce's own chart (294-206) depicts the all-seeing eye along with many astrological symbols.

Suppose the Masons were Cayce's main source of speculative fraternal ideology, then the Woodmen of the World was his main source of actual lodge experience. Woodmen of the World was founded by Joshua Cullen Root (1844-1913) in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1890, after Root had lost control of another fraternity which he founded, Modem Woodmen of America. (The history of the Woodmen of the World extends to several dozen other benefit societies which have merged with or split off from them; I will not recount this history here.) Root was also a Mason, an Odd Fellow, a Pythian, a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen and Mechanics, and Vera Amicitia Sempiterna. The founding mythology of the Woodmen of the World posits an ancient code of brotherhood among woodmen, who are sworn to help one another in time of need? The myth also holds that woodmen worldwide have developed a body of wisdom torn inspired by Woodcraft, much as the Masons are inspired by operative masonry. Like most fraternities, the Woodmen sponsor or contribute to many charitable projects, and today are especially proud of their Patriotic Program (begun in 1946. though its roots are older) in which American flags and other nationalistic paraphernalia are donated. The Woodmen have three degrees-morning, noon, and night--but most members-only undergo the first, consisting of a welcoming ritual in which new members are passed beneath a tunnel formed by the crossed axes of the existing members. In 1896 grassroots pressure from the lodges led to creating a "Uniform Rank" to organize military-type drill instruction, including distinctive Woodmen ax drills.

As a benefit society, Woodmen's main purpose has always been providing life insurance, although it's ritual, social and financial aspects are officially held to be coequal. Modem readers may wonder why fraternal organizations rather than public or private life insurance companies would have been formed for this purpose. The answer is the practice of taking up collections on behalf of widows, orphans, and others in need had long been a practice of churches, lodges, and trade guilds; it sometimes happened that people would join such groups I made explicit the primarily for the sake of the benefits—regular benefit societies mere y obligations and expectations of the participants. Given the limitations of communications technology, a social component was necessary to ensure that claims were honestly made and assessments paid. Indeed, state law often required those offering insurance to follow a fraternal format, by which was meant that it "must be solely for the benefit of their members and nonprofit, must have a lodge system, holding meetings in ritualistic form. must have a representative form of government, and must make provisions for the payment of insurance benefits." (166) Many states (including Nebraska) continue to grant privileges to fraternal insurance providers not enjoyed by their for-profit counterparts.

Cayce and his father joined the Woodmen in 1900. The society was popular in Kentucky, with some 7.800 candidates being initiated in Louisville in 1910. In Cayce's day, membership in Woodmen of the World was open only to white males ages sixteen to fifty-two possessing sound health, habits. and morals. (167) (There was a ladies' auxiliary as well, the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle, which in 1965 merged with the main body of Woodmen.) Members of certain dangerous or unhealthy occupations (e.g., coal miners) were automatically excluded unless they agreed to waive any death benefits which might otherwise be payable. Besides payment of death benefits, members who died would have a marker in the shape of a tree stump (a perennial woodmen symbol) placed on their grave. Some of these can be seen to this day in Hopkinsville's Riverside Cemetary. Cayce's grave, however, lacks such a marker, probably because he and his father allowed their memberships to lapse at some point. That point is likely to have been 1919, the year that the fraternity (in common with numerous other benefit societies) was forced to institute rate adjustments in the process of converting to an actuarial system. The move was necessary to ensure financial stability did not assuage those whose ages would disadvantage them under an actuarial system, many of whom argued that the move represented a breach of contract. As a result of the controversy, the number of outstanding Woodmen policies declined from a peak of 962,000 policies in 1919 to 343,000 in 1933. However, the number eventually climbed back to over a million in the 1940s.

The Cayce readings mention the name "Woodmen" only once (412-6) as one of several possible opportunities for service which that particular reading recipient was asked to consider. Elsewhere he urges that his teachings be evaluated according to whether we find them personally beneficial. That is,.. does such make them better parents, better children, better husbands, better wives, better neighbors, better friends, better citizens? And if and when it does NOT, LEAVE IT ALONE!" (1135-6) (168)

His language recalls that of the "Objectives of Woodcraft" (1903 version. since revised), which describe the fraternity's purpose:

Woodmen is to ennoble its membership; to minister to the afflicted; to relieve distress ... to so impress the grand doctrine of the brotherhood of man upon our membership as to make it an important factor in our daily lives; to encourage broad, charitable views; to make us more intelligent citizens, truer friends, gentler sons, more thoughtful brothers, more considerate husbands, and more reasonable fathers.

It is not for the advancement of the interests of any denominational dogma...

Another possible Woodmen borrowing is Cayce's choice of a dove with an olive branch in its beak for the ARE's symbol. Ultimately drawn from the Genesis account of the Noachian deluge and popular with Christians (for whom it suggests the Holy Spirit) and peace activists (for whom it is a symbol of hope), the symbol was one of several in regular use the Woodmen of the World.

 

Following is the overview of the other parts in this major case study whereby underneath you will see the footnotes in reference to the above section:

Cayce's ability (whatever its nature) to effortlessly absorb books' contents makes it seem inevitable that Cayce would have attempted to acquire religious knowledge in this way. The day after he arrived in Hopkinsville, Cayce searched for a town-based job and found one with E.H. Hopper & Son Bookstore, which from 1874 to 1913 also housed Hopkinsville's collection of public library books. There "seemed to be something appealing" about the bookstore, and Cayce recalls that "the several years I remained there seemed to be the stepping stones: yea. even the door to life itself." without explaining why, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 1.

Robert Smith claimed that if Cayce did meet President Wilson, however, he was never told of this and suggested that he had confused Wilson with a cousin of the president's for whom Cayce did, in fact, give readings. Also, several of Cayce's partners and associates in the several oil ventures were clearly promoters of dubious character. The question must be asked whether Cayce himself should be considered one as well rather than simply as an innocent pawn of others, as ARE literature suggests. That Cayce no less than Kahn was an active participant in what came to be known simply as "the proposition" is illustrated by his travels to "New Orleans, Jackson, Memphis, Denver, all over Texas, St. Louis, Chicago. Indianapolis, Cincinnati- Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Florida.," as well as Columbus. Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York City. In any case, what began as a search for oil and then for oil investors around 1922 blurred into a direct search for hospital donors. Allies in Birmingham, New York, and Chicago all indicated a willingness to raise money for the venture, provided it would be located in their respective cities. The readings, however, indicated the Norfolk area, apparently for spiritual and karmic reasons, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 2.

Attempts to pinpoint Cayce's religious heritage are inevitably contentious given the strong feelings of so many people who seek to claim (or reject) him as a representative of their own beliefs. Christian-oriented Cayceans such as Bro stress the Christian basis of his teachings while asleep and active church life while awake over the objections of Christian opponents of Cayce, who emphasize his many departures from mainstream Christian doctrine. New Agers note Cayce's use of language and ideas consistent with various Western esoteric traditions; simultaneously, Christian-oriented Cayceans point to his efforts to distance himself from Spiritualism and occultism. There is something to be said in favor of all of these perspectives. I propose to call Cayce a syncretizer since this brings out the diversity of his sources and suggests fruitful link's with other turn-of-the-century syncretizers.- In 1906, a test was arranged for Cayce in which he would give a reading for a patient chosen for him before a large audience of visiting physicians. However, when the reading proved accurate, members of the audience stormed up to him while he still lay in a trance and began conducting impromptu tests to see if he really was under hypnosis. One doctor peeled back one of his fingernails, while another stuck a hatpin through his face-common stunts in stage hypnosis at the time. Cayce did not flinch but later awoke in great pain. As a result of this experience, he resolved to stop trying to convince skeptics and give readings only for those who genuinely wanted his help. To Cayceans, the incident illustrates the limitations of a formal scientific or scholarly approach to the readings, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 3.

The usual approach to the readings also ignores the passage of time. Readings from different decades are quoted alongside one another typically (due to the nature of the ARE's citation style for readings extracts) with no indication of when they were delivered. Yet, a certain evolution can be observed in the content and tone of the readings over the five decades of Cayce's psychic career, which becomes lost whenever readings from different periods are lumped together the indiscriminately.-The chronic problem is that those aspects of Cayce which manage to find their way into popular publication are those which match the needs and mores of the Cayce movement. These are often arbitrarily or ideologically chosen, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 4.

In the course of surveying the history and teachings of the Cayce movement, it is easy to lose sight of the experience of its participants. After all, Cayceans are typically less interested in studying the origins of their institutions than in contemplating the possibility of deeper levels to the universe and themselves or in changing their lives to reflect more of spiritual orientation. How these aspirations are expressed are numerous, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 5

Today, the ARE's request that study groups collect contributions seems to be practiced regularly when not disregarded altogether. Of the groups I have attended, only the one at ARE headquarters solicited donations each week, with one dollar appearing to be the standard per capita contribution.- A democratic ARE (to the extent that such a thing is even conceivable) might easily prove even more anti-intellectual and personality-driven than its present incarnation. At the same time, the example of the Swedenborg Foundation demonstrates that it is possible to combine academic respectability (recent monographs have dealt with D.T. Suzuki. Henri Corbin and Kant) with at least nominal democratic safeguards (e.g., proxy voting). A key difference is that the various Swedenborgian churches are institutionally separate from the Swedenborg Foundation- whereas the ARE combines both of these functions and many more, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 6.

Some leave when they do not find their vision reflected, complaining about the politics of Virginia Beach. Others accommodate themselves to a framework with which they are not entirely comfortable or become outspoken in their attempts to change the organization. The ARE leadership presently incorporates several distinct visions--some complementary, some not. The organization is sufficiently decentralized to keep these visions in a sort of equilibrium based partially on inertia (once a given program is started, it will probably be continued) and partially because most Cayceans have multiple interests concerning the readings. However, skeptical or scholarly approaches are definitely a minority interest within the ARE. They are almost wholly unrepresented within those functions that have the greatest capacity for influencing the Caycean masses (e.g., study groups, publishing, or conferences). -An object of ARE charity really a public relations activity, a disguised form of product development, or an expression of a liberal theological identity (against those Southern Protestant denominations that are perceived as anti-scientific). Inquiries into the source question have lacked the necessary connections for the first category, are not particularly well-suited to the second or third, and work at cross-purposes to the fourth by giving comfort to the ARE's enemies. The result is that Cayce's research has proceeded for half a century now without much appreciation of the Cayce movement's forebears, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 7.

During his lifetime, Cayce was widely assumed to have some connection with Spiritualism, as illustrated by this 1930 headline from the Baltimore Sun: "Spiritualist Research Aim of Atlantic University." (177) Observers of Cayce had good reason to associate him with Spiritualism, since Cayce's practice of medical clairvoyance was known from the Spiritualist movement (Edgar Cayce would also subsequently claim to have become a reader of the “Akashic Records"), continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 9.

Like Blavatsky, Cayce, too would report being visited by a being wearing white robes and a turban. Several of Cayce's friends had an interest in Theosophy, including Arthur Lammers and Morton Blumenthal, and while awake, Cayce spoke before at least one Theosophical Society meeting (in Birmingham, Alabama), continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 10.

The Cayce readings refer to New Thought denominations from time to time; 3063-1 recommends "Divine Science, Unity, or Christian Science; provided they do not require that the body be kept from making those administrations for the physical and mental self." Except for Christian Science, Cayce appears to regard these movements favorably, without any of the qualifications which inevitably accompany his praise of other religious movements such as Spiritualism or Theosophy. Today, ARE functions bear more than a passing resemblance to New Thought services, and many ARE conferences and retreats are held in Unity churches and the like. A retreat jointly sponsored by Unity and ARE was held at Unity Village in 1996 after several previous ARE events. (Charles Thomas Cayce met his eventual wife, Leslie Goodman Cayce, at just such an occasion.) The ARE Library has acquired the Metaphysical Society of San Francisco, established by Homes of Truth founder Annie Rix Militz, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 11.

The outlines of the "proto-New Age" should be clear enough now. Around the turn of the century, several spiritual leaders and movements whose teachings mixed themes from Spiritualism, Theosophy. New Thought, and alternative health. They emphasized reincarnation, astrology, and psychic phenomena and spoke of Atlantis, ancient Egypt, the Essenes- and Jesus's Journey to India. They endorsed alternative health practices (often naturopathic ones). They accepted a view of human anatomy which merged the chakras and nadis of Indian lore with the glandular and nervous systems of the Western fore. Many (though by no means all) 'incorporated racist or anti-Semitic beliefs into their spiritual systems. It is here that we should take for Cayce's closest theological relatives.-Despite Cayce's reluctance to endorse it, the teachings of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 12.

Cayce's psychological or spiritual interpretation of the fourth dimension and the explanation was given, consistent with Ouspensky's explanation in Tertium Organum. Although Cayce's division of human nature and the universe into three levels seems natural, it represents a departure from most other Western esoteric traditions and comes closest to that of Rudolf Steiner, continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 13.

Apart from pulp fiction which, as we described, also led to Scientology, there is an earlier precursor that also might have inspired the ancient astronaut theory first popularized by the "Occult Science" of H.P. Blavatsky, who wrote in her widely sold book "The Secret Doctrine" (which claimed to reveal "the origin and evolution of the universe and humanity itself") that already during the time of "Atlantis" there were flying machines and that knowledge of such machines "was passed on" to later generations in India. Similarly, the founder of today's top-rated Waldorf schools Rudolf Steiner, also claimed that the Atlanteans had aircraft that had steering mechanisms by which they could rise above mountain ranges.

In the perpetual motion milieu, frauds who have appealed to occultist thinking have abounded. For example, from 1873 until he died in 1898, John E. W. Keely of Philadelphia promoted a mysterious motor that ran on "etheric force" derived from the "disintegration of water." He raised millions from financiers and the public for his company on the strength of his demonstrations of such phenomena as musical notes causing weights to rise and fall. Of these performances, which had a kinship to séances, he remarked, "I am always a good deal disturbed when I begin one of these exhibitions, for sometimes if an unsympathetic person is present, the machines will not work." Theosophists of the age admired him for combining "the intuitions of the seer with the practical knowl­edge of mechanics."

Rudolf Steiner firmly believed in and confirmed his own so-called clairvoyance the reality of the Keely phenomena to next claim to e able to duplicate Keely through his own Clairvoyantly as described in the article "From the Keely engine to the Strader machine. Except as Wouter Haanegraaf clearly demonstrated, Steiner's clairvoyance was based on 'imaginative fantasy.' Continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 14.

The readings claim that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were affiliated with an Essene community based on Mount Carmel, which was a continuation of a "school of the prophets" begun by Elijah, Elisha, Samuel, and ultimately Melchizedek (254-109). The Essenes are not mentioned in the Bible. Yet Several occult gospels confirmed that Jesus had been a member of the Essenes and the Great White Brotherhood.

The notion that Jesus had spent his "lost years" wandering Asia by no means originated with Cayce. Its first proponent seems to have been the Russian war correspondent Nicholas Notovitch (1858-c. 1916), who describes his travels in British India in work entitled La Vie Inconnue de Jesus-Christ (The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ), published in 1894. But as we pointed out early on is seen to be a fraud. Continue in Edgar Cayce's Secret, Part 15.

 

150. Quoted in A. Robert Smith, About My Father's Business, pp. 62. 65-66.

151. Before the 1920s, Sunday schools were often independent of any denominational affiliation, and typically utilized a common curriculum and set of teaching materials developed by the International Sunday School Association. Thus. Cayce's Sunday school classes at the Ninth Street Christian Church in Hopkinsville drew members of other churches and often hosted circuit-riding Methodist preachers. (cf. Hannon Bro. A Seer Out of the Season, p. 281)

152. Harmon Bro, Charisma of the Seer, p. 160.

153. If the Cayce readings are to be believed, Thomas Campbell was the reincarnation of Noah and Elisha. He incarnated yet again in the 1940s when his new parents asked Cayce for a life reading.

154 Max Ward Randall, The Great Awakenings and the Restoration Movement, p.108.

155. Robert Handy, A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada, p. 169.

156. Cayce told Harmon Bro (recounted in A Seer Out of Season, p. 271) that Scott's initial meeting with Campbell had taken place at Old Liberty--the church which Cayce attended during his childhood and youth in Beverly. According to the usual Hopkinsville authorities, however, the story is somewhat apocryphal.

157. The last line alludes to the sleeping Cayce's conviction that the center of the world's civilization is constantly moving westward--from Europe to the United States, then across the American continent, and perhaps now from the United States to Asia (3976-15 warns of "Mongolia"). Cayce appears to assume that "civilization" must be accompanied by Christianity. Accordingly, he predicts the gradual conversion of China's elites to Christianity (2834-3, 3976-29).

158. Dale E. Boudreau- "Sources of the Fraternal Spirit," in Gnosis 44, (Summer 1997), p. 32, 38.

159. Besides the absence of any Masonic records or family recollections suggesting this, they probably would not have joined Woodmen of the World if they had been Masons.

160. Although Wiccans today are more likely to describe their religion using language drawn from feminism the environmental movement. and Jungian psychology many Masonic elements have been preserved unrecognized-for example, the use of the term "the craft" to refer to the religion the emphasis on secrecy and initiation the presence of three grades in Gardnerian Wicca: and the use of ceremonial swords robes, and sacred drama. Many witches use the expression "So mote it be." unaware that they are quoting the last line of the Regius manuscript.

161. Cayce correctly associates 1944 and 1945 with the beginning of peace, at a time when the war in question was confined to Manchuria. As for "a new order of peace" based on "the brotherhood of man," several important transnational institutions were founded in the immediate postwar period, including the IMF, the World Bank, GATT, and the reorganized United Nations. Critics, however, will hasten to point out that these institutions are neither Masonic nor particularly benevolent.

162. Lynn Dumenil, Freemasonry and American Culture 1880-1930, p. 115.

163. Manly Palmer Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages., pp. lxxiv, clxxv.

164. A.S. MacBride, Speculative Masonry, p. 114.

165. Albert Mackey, Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, entry for "Temple."

166. Ernie May, "Lodge System Is Centerpiece of Fraternal, Social Activity." in Woodmen 100 no 6 (June 1990) p. 5.

167. According to the entry for "Woodmen" in Albert Stevens' Cyclopedia of Fraternities.

168. The similarly-worded 254-57 reading adds that the Cayce work will also make "thieves worse thieves, liars bigger liars--Its BOUND to! If it's Life itself 'it IS growth; no matter in which direction it is turned, it will GROW!"

 

 

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