If the New Age could be said to possess a starting point, it might be traced to the early autumn of 1923 in Selma, Alabama. After his failed oil ventures, Cayce resettled his family there to resume an intermittent career as a commercial photographer and enroll his sixteen-year-old son, Hugh Lynn, in Selma High. Cayce’s readings had reportedly cured Hugh Lynn of blindness at age six, following a flash-powder accident, and the boy was devoted to his father’s mission. Cayce’s wife, Gertrude, was less certain. She had suffered Cayce’s absences while struggling with a new baby son, Edgar Evans, and ached for the family to assume a normal life.
In September, a wealthy printer from Dayton, Ohio, Arthur Lammers, came to visit Cayce at his photography studio. Lammers had learned about Cayce during the psychic’s oil-prospecting days. The Ohioan was an unlikely combination of hard-driving businessman—stocky and tough, with sharp eyes and powerful limbs—and an avid seeker in Theosophy, ancient religions, and the occult. He and his wife maintained a Victorian mansion in Dayton with stained-glass windows, a pipe organ, and book- shelves lined with what Poe would have called “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” The businessman–occultist insisted that the seer could use his powers for more than medical diagnosis. He wanted Cayce to probe the secrets of the ages: What happens after death? Is there a soul? Why are we here? Moreover, Lammers wanted to understand the mysteries of the pyramids, astrology, alchemy, the “Etheric World,” reincarnation, and the esoteric religions of ancient Egypt and Greece.
Cayce had been willing to put up with the stares and whispers from churchgoing friends and neighbors regarding his trance readings, but astrology and other occult topics seemed vaguely heretical to him. For all his outer humility, however, Cayce was a man of ambitions. The psychical researcher Martin Ebon noted that Cayce showed “the weakness...to give in to the demanding questions of the True Believers, to those who wanted to see him as all-knowing.” And after years of stalled progress in his outer life, Cayce was enticed by the new sense of mission. Lammers urged Cayce to move with him to Dayton, assuring the psychic that he and his family would be well cared for there. Lammers offered Cayce not only a way up in the world but possibly funds for the alternative-healing hospital Cayce dreamed of.
Cayce returned with Lammers to Dayton and soon uprooted Gertrude and Edgar Evans to join him in a two-room efficiency apartment Lammers had rented for them. The older boy, Hugh Lynn, remained behind with friends in Selma to finish out the school term. Cayce also brought to Dayton a new intimate of the family: his attractive, meticulous 18-year-old stenographer, Gladys Davis, whom he had recently hired to transcribe his readings. Gertrude could only have looked askance at the younger woman living in close quarters with her family. But Davis’s devotions seemed limited to the Cayce readings alone, which she spent the rest of her life organizing. For Gertrude, Dayton meant another period of uncertainty. There is little record of the loneliness she must have felt or her difficulty in making new friends when the inevitable question that a homemaker would have been asked was: “What does your husband do?” But for Lammers and Cayce, the move marked the launch of an extraordinary inner journey.
Cayce and Lammers began their explorations at a downtown Dayton hotel on Oct. 11, 1923. In the presence of several onlookers, Lammers arranged for Cayce to enter a trance and give him an astrological reading. Whatever hesitancies the waking Cayce felt over arcane subjects vanished while he was in his psychical state. Cayce expounded deeply on astrological questions, affirming the art’s basic value, even as “the Source” alluded to misconceptions in the Western model. Near the end of the reading, Cayce almost casually tossed off that it was Lammers’s “third appearance on this [earthly] plane. He was once a monk.” There was a stunned silence in the room. Here was an unmistakable reference to reincarnation. It was exactly what Lammers had been looking for.
For the following month, the men continued their readings, probing further into Hermetic and esoteric spirituality. From a trance state on Oct. 18, Cayce laid out for Lammers, the reincarnated monk, what appeared to be an entire philosophy of life, dealing with reincarnation, man’s role in the cosmic order, and the hidden purpose of existence:
In this we see the plan of development of those individuals set upon this plane, meaning the ability (as would be manifested from the physical) to enter again into the presence of the Creator and become a full part of that creation.
Insofar as this entity is concerned, this is the third appearance on this plane, and before this one, as the monk. We see glimpses in the life of the entity now as were shown in the monk, in his mode of living.
The body is only the vehicle ever of that spirit and soul that waft through all times and ever remain the same.
These phrases were, for Lammers, the golden key to the mysteries: a theory of eternal recurrence that identified man’s purpose on earth as perfectibility through karma and repeat cycles of birth, then reintegration with the source of Creation. This, the printer believed, was the hidden truth behind the Scriptural injunction to be “born again” so as to “enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
“It opens up the door,” Lammers enthused. “It’s like finding the secret chamber of the Great Pyramid.” He told Cayce that the doctrine that had come through the readings seemed to synchronize the wisdom traditions of the world: “It’s Hermetic, it’s Pythagorean, it’s Jewish, it’s Christian!” Cayce wasn’t sure what to believe. “The important thing,” Lammers reassured him, “is that the basic system which runs through all the mystery traditions, whether they come from Tibet or the Pyramids of Egypt, is backed up by you. It’s actually the right system. . . . It not only agrees with the best ethics of religion and society, it is actually the source of them.”
Lammers’s enthusiasms aside, the religious ideas that emerged from Cayce’s trances did articulate a compelling theology. They sought to marry a Christian moral outlook with the cycles of karma and reincarnation central to Hindu and Buddhist ways of thought and with the Hermetic concept of man as an extension of the Divine. If there was an inner, or occult, philosophy behind the world’s historic faiths, Cayce had come as close as any modern person to defining it.
Excerpted from Horowitz's book, Occult America.