The limits of competence

A post of 2006-11-04 at Messiah Truth. In the larger discussion from which this is taken, I was asserting that clairvoyance isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. The borderline between what one knows and what one doesn’t know is invisible to anyone.

The limits of competence: The Edgar Cayce story …

… provides many parallels to current questions about information that purportedly comes from “Beyond” and the ways people respond to same.

Edgar Cayce was born in 1877 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He lived for substantial periods of time in Selma, Alabama; Dayton, Ohio; and Virginia Beach, Virginia. He worked as a farmer and photographer. From birth, he displayed considerable clairvoyance aside from the singular mechanism to be described below. Thomas Cayce, his father’s father, is said to have had similar skills, but I know no details. No one else in the family had similar skills or interests, except for Edgar’s mother, who is said to have at times seen the discarnates who were the child Edgar’s playmates.

Cayce is best known for the following routine, which he performed twice a day for most of his adult life. In the presence of perhaps 8 or 10 witnesses, he would lie down and, to all appearances, begin to take a nap. However, if particular directions were spoken to him at a given point in this process, his consciousness apparently would become able to access a wealth of otherwise unavailable information, which he could report and on the basis of which he could answer questions. Upon waking, Cayce would have no memory of anything he had said. Accordingly, a secretary normally was present to record these utterances, or “readings,” in shorthand, and later transcribe them as typed text. Tens of thousands of these documents have been preserved at an archive in Virginia Beach, and extensively cross-indexed and studied.

A typical “reading” might occur in response to a request from someone in a distant city with an intractable health problem. The seeker would agree to specify an address where she or he would be, at the time and date of the “reading.” Cayce typically spoke as if he had somehow become present in that room; would “examine the body” and offer diagnosis and suggestions for treatment. Those suggestions, when followed, normally brought relief.

The best-known popular, sympathetic works treating Cayce’s career are There is a River, by Thomas Sugrue; The Sleeping Prophet, by Jess Stearn; and Many Mansions, by Gina Cerminara. (All book titles in this post constitute links.)


Cayce had an “inner circle” of roughly 30 adults, among whom a number of Jews were foremost. These included Morton Blumenthal, his brother Edwin Blumenthal, and David Kahn. Although much of the material in the readings is fervently Christian, it appears that Cayce never at any time “evangelized” any of these Jews.

Cayce had two sons, Edgar Evans Cayce and Hugh Lynn Cayce. The latter, significantly clairvoyant himself, had a son, Charles Thomas Cayce, who is prominent in the movement’s leadership today. Charles Thomas’s wife Leslie is a Jew.

The appearance of a dynasty notwithstanding, the Cayce offspring display no pretense or presumption whatsoever. They are all, as I said of Stanley Krippner, “no-nonsense straight shooters.”


I recently posted, concerning what I’ve heard from Pentecostalist preachers during “anointing,”

The junk I’ve heard produced from that state, almost defies belief. As often as not, take out the “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord-ah!” that constitute verbal punctuation marks in these utterances; take out that stuff so one can read it; and the transcript will be found to be wholly incoherent. Every time a “Praise the Lord-ah!” occurs, the next sentence involves nothing pertinent in any way whatsoever to the one before.

Much of the Cayce material likewise is just about what one might expect from any sleeping person: disjointed, vague, so abstract as to be almost useless. Much also, however, is alarmingly lucid, easy to understand, intellectually provocative, and/or such as grabs a reader’s heart or gut and almost requires a response.

Whether any of it is true, is an independent question.

In The Outer Limits of Edgar Cayce’s Power, Edgar Evans Cayce and Hugh Lynn Cayce investigated the extent to which information that came through the Cayce source could be verified. For example, if the source said the patient had a tumor in the left inner ear, this proposition might be verifiable. Information might exist either confirming or disconfirming the assertion. It also might not exist, making the assertion unverifiable. Similarly, an assertion that the patient is “too short-tempered” would be unverifiable: he or she might have a reputation as quick-tempered, but who’s to say she or he is “too much” so?

Of those statements found to be verifiable, 80% were found to be correct. This is the same degree of accuracy found in hypnotic regressions. It is also the same degree found in eyewitness testimony in trials.


Conventional Egyptology holds that the Giza monuments were built no earlier than 3,000 BCE. Many liberal Christians believe that it was specifically these monuments that the Israelites built, per Exodus 1:11. Embedded in the Cayce readings is a very different version of the same events; a saga set forth in great detail, but dating the events at least 7,000 years earlier.

Several hundred readings allude to or set forth parts of this saga. Some examine parts of it in detail and at length. Others merely mention some detail in passing; as telling a given patient that she was present at place X when event Y occurred. These readings were given on widely dispersed dates. Yet time and again, (1) the same cast of characters appears, with (a) the same names in (b) the same roles, and (2) the same events in (3) the same sequence. “Ra Ta,” for example, is consistently “the Priest” (a prior incarnation of Cayce himself); “Aaraarart” is “the king” (a prior incarnation of Hugh Lynn); “Hermes” is the engineer (a prior incarnation of Jesus). These are purported to be the historical originals of the mythological Ra, Hermes, etc.

Mark Lehner collated all this into a book, The Egyptian Heritage, and subsequently assiduously sought to verify it on-site. These efforts yielded an earned doctorate; last I knew, he was teaching at the University of Chicago; but as for concrete substantiation of the saga, unfortunately he found none. Zip. Zero. As he himself will tell you, if you ask.


In the early 1940’s, a recent seminary graduate and exceptionally capable young mind (sic) managed for several years to join the Cayce household. His name was Harmon Hartzell Bro. Reading his essays in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I became impressed that he became impressed, from what he observed in those years, that study and dissemination of “the Work” could and rightly would bring about, in short order, a revolutionary alteration of human consciousness and vast, if not limitless, improvement in life throughout the world.

This did not occur, and it seems from roughly 1955 forward he carried a good deal of bitterness that it did not. On the one hand, the world especially the intellectual world has just plain never had much interest in hearing this message. On the other hand, the movement itself was beset by demoralizing conflicts among factions all bent on, as it were, hearing the Word but not doing it.

How many such folk will one find at, say, a Benny Hinn revival?


such as they are, took offense at Bro’s magnum opus about Cayce, A Seer out of Season; because it included reports of such events as angry shouting matches between Edgar and Hugh Lynn. It was, they said, disrespectful and insulting to report such things about the great and holy man.

Did he not, after all, bring us information from Beyond? How, then, could he or that information possibly have any flaws? Within this post, we have seen already and will see again that such reasoning is flawed. Sheer nonsense is perfectly capable of coming from Beyond. But such fundamentalism or inerrant-ism is quite common. So do Muslims hold the Koran, Mormons the golden plates, and fundamentalist Christianity its Bible.

The RamTha website: I found it, but did not link to it or provide address, because much of what appears there presumes that the “channeling” of RamTha spells the inerrancy of those teachings.

Some years ago, another purported clairvoyant, Paul Solomon, used a mechanism similar to Cayce’s. Every page of that site carries the banner, “A sleeping man speaks of …”, as if the mechanism in and of itself verifies the texts. It doesn’t. Solomon was one of the big sources of the notion of catastrophic “earth changes” that were to have occurred in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I read these detailed and exhaustive descriptions of this or that coming disaster, and time and again the purported spirit source would conclude with a caveat: this may not necessarily occur in the concrete world, but may pertain instead to intrapersonal crises of the psyche. Saith Proteus, “Hmm. Well, excuse me, Mr. Spirit Source; could you please make up your inerrant mind?”


In light of all of the above, a fitting feature of the Cayce corpus that may (I don’t know.) differentiate it from many Pentecostal preachers, and does (For certain.) set it apart from the likes of Jim Jones and David Koresh: he as much as said flat out, “Don’t take anything I say on blind faith. Test it. Use your reason. Think for yourself. And follow your own counsel.” He said this many times. And so the roster of his students includes such free-thinkers as Harmon H. Bro, M.Div, Ph.D.; Charles Thomas Cayce, Ph.D.; Hugh Lynn Cayce, Ph.D.; Everett Irion; Mark Lehner, Ph.D.; Herbert Bruce Puryear, Ph.D.; Violet K. Shelly; Mark Thurston, Ph.D.; and myself.

Cayce himself never took the material “on faith.” Throughout his life he endured intense persecution because of the bizarre mechanism he used and the unorthodox point of view expressed in the texts. Bro tells of an event that occurred in the midst of one particularly intense time of persecution. The family received a letter from someone who had applied the suggestions given in a reading and had thus obtained very significant relief from extreme and chronic pain. That night, Bro happened to walk past Edgar Cayce’s bedroom; the door, unknown to Cayce, was ajar; and Bro saw and heard the man Cayce kneeling in prayer before his bed, weeping uncontrollably and saying over and over, “Thank you, God. God, thank you.”


[In this discussion, I was in conversation with a number of ex-Christians who insisted that Christianity is thus-and-so, the religion they thought they’d left, whereas that religion has and had never been mine. I counseled to the contrary as follows:]

Any evaluation of others’ beliefs, seeking conclusions, even if it is one’s own FORMER belief system really isn’t on one’s own agenda.

The light in which you walk today: how far does it extend? Are you doing your best to walk in it (your own light) correctly? Where does the darkness (the truly unknown) begin? What are the limits of competence of your own belief today?

These are appropriate questions.


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