The Parade of Errors PDF Print E-mail
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Written by James Randi   

The state of Virginia boasts one of the most transparent – yet revered – “psychics” of recent decades. He was known as the "Sleeping Prophet," a photographer named Edgar Cayce who earned his nickname by making medical diagnoses while reclining in a “trance,” though no evidence was ever produced to establish this state, perhaps because experts on the subject are rather rare. Cayce – pronounced “Kay-see” – was the subject of an episode of one of NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries," the TV show that showcased such wonders as the Gulf Breeze UFO photos of Ed Walters, and England's phantom “crop circles,” as genuine wonders. The NBC-TV crew went both to Norfolk and Virginia Beach filming dramatic recreations of Cayce's life for a 15-minute segment which concentrated on Cayce's reputation as a "psychic diagnostician."

Five different time periods from 1890 to 1945 were “creatively” re-created for the show.

Support for claims of medical cures divined by Cayce was provided by an interview with a New Jersey chiropractor, Joe Pagano, who had been sharing these divinely-inspired “psychic” remedies with patients for 30 years. He admitted that they didn't work in all cases, but one patient, also interviewed, claimed to have regained eyesight after using a Cayce cure – no medical evidence provided. The remedies themselves were often bizarre: applying mashed potatoes to the eyes for blindness, or taking three almonds a day to prevent cancer. Cayce also recommended hot broths and vile-sounding and bad-tasting concoctions made from roots and bark. It was no secret that many of these home-spun remedies were commonly found in bedside almanacs and various quack pamphlets distributed by travelling medicine-men.

The Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) in Virginia Beach has on file some 14,000 of Cayce's readings, which treat everything from medical problems to the lost continent of Atlantis. Run by Cayce's grandson Charles Thomas Cayce, ARE is a nonprofit organization devoted to the prophet's spiritual teaching, a weird mix of Christianity and Eastern mysticism.

The director of the "Unsolved Mysteries" segment was quoted as saying that they were not approaching Cayce's story as believers, but viewed it "as a phenomenon that is very mysterious." He further found Cayce's medical knowledge difficult to explain. Likewise, the segment producer was quoted as saying, "Cayce had this psychic ability to determine why people felt the way they did physically or emotionally." Such statements indicate that the series’ producers didn't make much of an effort to solve this mystery. As I pointed out in my book, Flim-Flam, Cayce already had in hand letters from the ailing naifs who sought his powers, and most of those letters actually stated the ailments, so his diagnostic powers weren’t at all strained.

But there are many more reasons to doubt his powers. He even gave diagnoses for who were dead! How could that be? Surely death is a very serious and evident symptom and should be easily detectable. But we have failed to take into account the ingenuity of the breed, apparent in the following example.

Cayce gave a reading on a Monday for a little girl who had died of leukemia on Sunday, the day before. He gave a long and typical diagnosis and a long and complicated dietary cure. This brief excerpt from the reading will suffice to show just how lucid and informative it was:

And this depends upon whether one of the things as intended to be done today is done or isn't done, see?

I mention this particular phony because I’m involved in preparing much more in-depth material on him for inclusion in my next book, “A Magician in the Laboratory,” which will deal with my adventures travelling about the world examining how well-funded scientists fumble the ball while examining phonies who are beyond their abilities to observe properly.

Stay tuned…