Blavatsky in Edgar Cayce’s Library

Powerpoint slides from a 2022 conference and a book introduction from 1998 are now shared on academia:

Here is the text I wrote to narrate the Powerpoint slides:

Blavatsky in Edgar Cayce’s Library—talk for 10/5/22

My initial interest in Theosophical history resulted from an encounter with a large collection of books, many by Theosophical authors, at the newly opened A.R.E. Library and Conference Center in Virginia Beach in the 1970s. This led eventually to two dozen other libraries in America, France, England, and India, and to publication of three books by SUNY Press as part of its Western Esoteric Traditions series. The first two focused on Theosophical origins in Europe and Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • My last book in the series has a very different focus with a central figure who spent his entire life in the American South, who was a faithful churchgoer and popular Sunday School teacher—hardly comparable to Helena Blavatsky’s global travels and language proficiency. The cover shows Edgar Cayce in similar attire and pose over five decades, from his mid-twenties to his mid- sixties from bottom to top. Although they clearly are photographs of the same person, a professional photographer himself, each decade defines a different stage in his development as a clairvoyant counselor. Son of a farm family in rural Christian County, Kentucky, he moved to the county seat Hopkinsville where he worked as a bookstore clerk. A mysterious loss of his voice for months led to a local medical doctor placing him in trance and asking him to diagnose his affliction and recommend a course of treatment. The treatment’s success led to local media attention as Cayce was used as a medical clairvoyant by osteopaths, allopaths, and chiropractors. Eventually he made national headlines in 1910. His photography career took him to Selma, Alabama, where he joined the Birmingham TS in 1922 and soon thereafter delivered a lecture there. By 1925 when his spiritual source directed him to relocate to Virginia Beach, past life readings entered his vocabulary and brought Atlantis and ancient Egypt into the picture. Medical readings still predominated through the brief history of the Cayce Hospital and the National Society of Investigators. The Association for Research and Enlightenment, founded in 1931, defines his shift of focus as the clients for his readings become more numbers and the questions they ask more complicated. Astrology, the Great White Brotherhood, Earth Changes, along with other predictions of world events, missing persons become elements in the organizational synthesis. Finally, in the 1940s another new emphasis appears, as the Search for God books are created in dialogue with Study Group Number 1 in Norfolk which solicits each reading and then responds with further questions. Practical occultism, yoga, self-awareness of attitudes and emotions, the Collective Unconscious, all reflect Theosophists, Fourth Way disciples, students of analytic psychology, posing questions to Cayce from all over the country. Through every phase of his career, however, the Bible is always the most frequently cited source and he claimed to have read it from cover to cover every year of his life.
  • Along with the 14000+ transcribed trance discourses recorded by Cayce’s secretary, the library collection also includes more than 80,000 books on related subjects: Alternative medicine, metaphysical spirituality, esoteric lore about lost civilzations. Blavatsky is one of the most influential writers of the 19th century in this collection.
  • I grew up familiar with the Cayces as a child because my five first cousins in Virginia Beach were all related to Edgar’s wife Gertrude Cayce through the House family with whom the Cayces in 1930. My uncle Cecil’s wife Irma Anderson had a younger sister married to Thomas House Jr.
  • Dr. House had come to Kentucky to become director of the Cayce Hospital, and after his who untimely death his widow and son lived with the Cayces.
  • The A.R.E. lost ownership of the hospital building during the Depression which went through various uses before being bought again in 1955.
  • The area along the Virginia Beach boardwalk is completely transformed from its appearance during Cayce’s life. This scene is of a community filled with hotels and rooming houses as well as private beach cottages.
  • By 2022 the boardwalk area had lost every vestige of historic frame architecture.
  • Doris Anderson married Tommy House in 1936 and they lived with her mother intermittently while raising three children, until Mrs. Anderson died in 1974.
  • Dolly Rice, who published under her married name as Doris Agee, was the firstborn of all the Rice cousins, and in 1969 became the author of an extremely successful small paperback that was among the earliest of a series of Cayce related paperbacks.
  • Her younger cousin Caroline House was called Stephanie in this 1973 book about the past life reading she had received from Edgar at the time of her birth, and her quest to confirm his statement that her most recent past life was as the Woman’s Suffrage and Temperance leader Frances Willard.
  • In conclusion, regarding Theosophy and its influence, the beginning of past life readings thereafter must be related to his exposure to Theosophy where Leadbeater had been providing them for years. Although his health readings combine allopathic, homeopathic, osteopathic, and naturopathic treatments, the context always include New Thought and Spiritualist approaches to spiritual healing as well. Cayce’s interpretation of Christianity manifested his own roots in Disciples theology, mixed up with endorsements of such works as the Aquarian Gospel, but his acceptance of reincarnation, the Great White Brotherhood, and a universalistic embrace of all world religions were largely determined by his Theosophical associations of the early 1920s. His specific descriptions of Atlantis and Lemuria vary in details from those of Theosophical writers but his general context for such description is questions raised by such authors. The final section of the book examines the Indian origins of key elements of Cayce’s elaborate meditation instructions for participants in Search for God groups. They open with a series of hatha yoga stretches and breathing and chanting of Om. This is followed by recital of the Lord’s Prayer which is tied to kundalini awakening and the chakras. This is followed by a period of silent meditation in which one hears the voice of the silence while focusing attention on the pineal gland as the “third eye.” The absorption of yogic influences in the readings bears the imprint of Cayce’s long association with Bhagat Singh Thind, a Punjabi Sikh immigrant to California who wrote several books promoting Surat Shabd Yoga, the set of practices developed by the Radhasoami movement.