An American Prophet

ByABC News
May 29, 2001, 4:11 PM

May 1 -- James van Praagh, John Edward and Sylvia Browne are only the most well-known of the large current crop of on-air psychics and mediums. They deliver their flapdoodle on TV with seeming sincerity and often claim to speak with the dead.

One of the dead they may now more easily commune with is their spiritual ancestor, Edgar Cayce, the subject of a huge new biography, Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet, by Sidney K. Kirkpatrick (Riverhead Books).

Cayce is considered by many to be the forerunner of the New Age movement for his alleged medical clairvoyance, scientific insights, and much else. If one 100th of the claims implicit in his biography were warranted, this book review would not be appearing here, but rather would be trumpeted on all the network news shows and emblazoned on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Still, he was an interesting character.

Nail in Head, Stick in Testicle

Born on a Kentucky farm in 1877, Edgar Cayce was very religious, sensitive, and given to frolicking with imaginary playmates and angels.

Thought to be rather peculiar even at a young age, Cayce suffered a number of strange childhood mishaps a nail penetrating his head, a baseball thrown into his spine, and a stick piercing his testicle.

Despite these unusual misfortunes, the outline of his early life is simple. He grows up, becomes a photographer, marries his hometown sweetheart, moves from one small Southern city to another, starts a family, and struggles financially. Gradually, however, he becomes convinced of his mystical gifts and medical intuitions.

The author was given unlimited access to Cayce's files and the results are unfortunate. Perhaps to generate credibility, the book relentlessly recites detail after superficial detail: apartments lived in, houses bought and sold, jobs taken, businesses invested in, financial arrangements and partners, city streets and scenes.

There are descriptions of acquaintances of all sorts including quite tenuous connections to Edison, Woodrow Wilson, Tesla, Lindbergh, Houdini, Hemingway, Earhart and, most of all, readings of medical cases.