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The Sleeping Prophet--Edgar Cayce

The Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc. (ARE) is located in the resort city of Virginia Beach, Virginia on the east coast of the U.S. Founded in 1931 by »The Sleeping Prophet,« Edgar Cayce, the ARE enjoys increasing popularity through its twin emphases on holistic health practices and metaphysical teachings. The ARE's current vogue is also related to both its efficient business organization and ability to ward off criticism. Its success is mainly due to the influence of Edgar Cayce, whose vision for ARE has been effectively preserved by the first generation of leadership succeeding his death in 1945.

For more than 40 years, The Sleeping Prophet would lay on a couch twice a day and enter into a self-induced state of hypnosis. The ARE materials report that, given only a person's name and location, Cayce could describe that individual's medical and religious history and provide him or her with counsel. Those sessions are called »readings.« The verbatim transcripts of the 4,256 discourses have been topically indexed under 10,000 categories and stand in the ARE library.

A Sunday School teacher and committed churchman, Cayce popularized holistic medicine in the first 20 years of that trance ministry by delivering diagnoses and cures that emphasized organic medicines and natural diets. For example, when Cayce's wife was stricken with severe tuberculosis, he prescribed a natural diet, simple organic drugs, and suggested she inhale apple-brandy fumes from a charred oak keg. The ARE reports that she, as well as many others who suffered various ailments, were cured when they followed Cayce's advice. As John P. Callan, M.D. wrote in the 16 March 1979 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,  »The roots of present-day holism probably go back 100 years to the birth of Edgar Cayce....«

Cayce's trance sessions broadened from holistic health to religious commentary when he prodaimed, in 1923, that his friend Arthur Lammers had been a monk in a former life. Although startled by the new flow of religious ideas, Cayce trusted those religious readings. He was confident that his first 20 years of successful medical counsel, which the ARE reports were accurate 85 percent of the time, would also lead to truthful religious commentary. Shortly after the Lammers reading, Cayce developed life readings for inquirers that typically discussed the astrological conditions present at the inquirer's birth, his or her mental and spiritual traits in previous lives, and counsel for the present life. The ARE emphasizes that because Cayce only received grade-school training, he was necessarily acting as a channel for a higher consciousness.

Whereas Cayce's powers to perform trance readings were not passed on to his assistants when he died, the huge log of verbatim readings have allowed his son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, to effectively direct ARE supporters' attention away from the loss of Cayce's leadership and onto that expansive collection. Hugh Lynn Cayce's administrative skills have led to the development of an impressive organization characterized by broad religious tolerance (there is no statement of faith for members and Cayce readings are 50 pliable as to accommodate many persuasions), holistic health practices, and effective marketing techniques.

In 1956 the ARE repurchased Edgar Cayce's Virginia Beach hospital building, which had been sold during the Depression, and converted it into their national headquarters, staffed by 145 people. In 1981 over 45,000 people visited the nearby stylish Library/Conference Center where 25 week-long seminars were also conducted. Visitors are given ESP tests and are led on friendly lecture tours which include unlimited time to browse through the Cayce readings and the 35,000-volume library on parapsychology, religion, and holistic health. Under the rubric Enlightenment Services, the ARE also sponsored 120 seminars on holistic health and new age religious themes in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Those ARE headquarters have an atmosphere akin to an evangelical campground. That atmosphere, combined with the ARE's forthright business practices, has attracted an older, more mature following that includes New Right political leader Richard Viguerie. The presence of an older population, an emphasis on scientific verification of ARE beliefs, and its associations with medical doctors, seem to mute criticisms that the ARE is cultish. Although the ARE is self-confident in its business and social structures, it is nonetheless sensitive to theological criticism voiced by more traditional Christians.

Unlike many new age groups who share the ARE's belief in reincarnation, astrology, parapsychology, Atlantis, and novel interpretations of the Bible, the ARE has a long history of putting its practices and beliefs before the public, unabashedly so. The ARE publishing house has sold 12 million books and booklets under 100 different titles, authored either by Cayce or his disciples. That dear presentation of its beliefs, however, does not ease current tensions between the ARE and Christians who think reincarnation, parapsychology, and astrology displace important Christian beliefs. In response to such criticisms, the ARE has emphasized the similarities between Cayce's thoughts and traditional Christianity.

One example that highlights that tension appears in an article in the ARE's Covenant Membership Course titled »Edgar Cayce--Christianity and Occultism« in which the author writes, »That which differentiates between the occult and the spiritual is not the form nor the organization nor the dogma, but rather the individual's ideals and purposes.« That text implicitly acknowledges that ethics and loving human relationships should be the core goals of ARE religious participants. It also concedes an internal tension about some of ARE's parapsychologicaI practices; namely, can those occult practices be used by Christians? The ARE's current answer suggests that occultism is a neutral but volatile science whose potential use is either good or bad, depending on how it is wielded.

Some of those occult practices and beliefs stem from Cayce's attitude which undergirded his religious readings--if the Bible does not outrightly and specifically deny an idea or practice, the ARE is free to pursue it. Thus, like Sai Baba, whose film »The Missing Years of Jesus« is used by the ARE, Cayce believed that Jesus traveled to India, Tibet, and Egypt for religious training. An attractive booklet hat introduces visitors to the ARE proclaims, »He (Cayce) managed to fill in the missing years of Jesus' life without contradicting scriptural accounts.« Well, yes, maybe The Sleeping Prophet did that, but at the same time he passed over biblical passages which definitely have something to say about such Eastern religious training.

As a nondogmatic institution, the ARE is free to emphasize the more biblical features that exist in the Cayce readings and to deemphasize the questionable ones. That is increasingly hard to do, however, because the publishing house and seminar activities are responding to demands for religious teachings that are not broadly received by the Christian Church. Yet the ARE is willing to talk with Christians of a different persuasion, and it is concerned about relations with the Church at large. Hiring the capable Lynn Sparrow (who received her religious training at Nyack Christian College, a conservative institution) as ARE manager of communications indicates strong possibilities for such productive conversation.