This interview was published in the May/June 2006 issue of Venture Inward in honor of the A.R.E.'s 75th Anniversary.
Elsie Sechrist (1909-1992) was a registered nurse. She met Edgar Cayce in the early 1940s and began a long and continuing interest and involvement in the study of parapsychology. Internationally recognized as an authority on dreams and meditation, she lectured all over the world, including Russia. Among her publications were two books which have become classics: Meditation: Gateway to Light and Dreams Your Magic Mirror. She appeared several times on the Mike Douglas Show as an authority on dreams.
Bill Sechrist (1909-1987) had a career primarily in corporate management. He also had a lifelong involvement in community and civic causes. Bill was especially interested in the moral, vocational, and business aspects of the Cayce readings. Together with his wife, they lectured throughout the world, often conferring with international experts in parapsychology and metaphysics. Bill personally underwrote the couple's international travels in which the two disseminated the Cayce information around the globe.
Both Bill and Elsie Sechrist had readings from Edgar Cayce. They became A.R.E.'s international representatives, spearheading international interest and A.R.E. volunteers throughout the world. Popular as a lecturing couple, the two enjoyed teasing themselves and one another in front of audiences. Bill enjoyed calling his wife "Saint Elsie," and she often ribbed her husband about his inability to stay focused on the topic they were discussing.
This article was adapted from an interview conducted in 1984 by Dr. James C. Windsor, then president of Atlantic University and the Edgar Cayce Foundation.
James C. Windsor: To start, Bill and Elsie, I think our audience would be interested in knowing just how you met Edgar Cayce-how you came to know him personally?
Elsie Sechrist: Bill first noticed in the New York papers, where we were living at the time, the review of the book There Is a River. And we had already been introduced to the subject by a teacher in New York, so it wasn't new. We got the book and we were fascinated and I immediately wrote to get readings from Edgar Cayce.
After I had had the reading, I came to Virginia Beach and met with Edgar Cayce. And as I sat listening to him the first time talking, an inner voice said, "You have come home. You need seek no longer." And I knew that this in some way was going to be the answer.
Bill Sechrist: I guess my first encounter was through Elsie. It got so bad, and I say that advisedly-we lived in New York City at the time and when I wanted to see Elsie, I had to come to Virginia Beach to see her. And I met Mr. Cayce at the time and we became good friends. He was a joy to have around. We shared some interests. We shared a love of fishing; we shared an interest in photography...He had a peculiar affinity for and with children.
He and I, I think, we did not delve into the esoteric to the extent that he and Elsie did. One time we were sitting out there on the lawn and he looked at me; I've forgotten exactly how he put it, but he said, "You don't exactly go for all of this stuff." And he made that as a statement, not a question. And then he added to that, "Well, that's a good approach; you like to see proof, you like to have proof, and that's good."
I saw him more, probably, in New York than I did down here. We hosted him in New York...I also counseled with him about business on the conscious level. He was a very brilliant man. He didn't trust his conscious advice. He was always afraid he would make a mistake. And I had some business readings. I can truthfully say that his business readings, not only for myself, but those that I have read in the meantime helped me to form a philosophy, so that if I were successful in business, then following this philosophy of his certainly contributed to probably 75-80 percent of my success in the business world.
JCW: Elsie, you've mentioned before that Edgar Cayce helped you with meditation by awakening you every night at 2:00 AM. How did he awaken you?
Elsie: He had uncanny gifts. He said in one of the first meetings, he said, "Who would like help in meditation?" I was so ignorant and still am. I raise my hand for anything I haven't tried once! And so he said," I will awaken you at two in the morning. And we were then staying at the Essex House, which had no telephones and, of course, headquarters was down on 14th Street. I said, "We have no telephone," and he said, "I don't need a telephone." I had just met him, you know. I thought, this strange man was going to come to my bedroom at two in the morning? And I thought well, I have a friend staying with me so I guess it will be all right if he does come.
That first night I awakened exactly at two! I knew nothing about meditation except it had to do with God. And suddenly I saw one big blue eye staring at me-my eyes were open and it was still there looking at me. Well, what are you going to do with one eye-like looking through a keyhole? You just look, that's all. And then, that changed and then the room was flooded with the odor of gardenias. Now I was on the oceanfront! There were no flowers around. I thought, what have I gotten myself into? What is this strange berserk sort of thing that is happening?
Anyway, I met him the next morning. And I said, "Mr. Cayce, I had some experiences. Could you help me?" He said, "Before you tell me about your experiences, let me tell you of the dream I had before I awakened you." And he told me exactly, he said, "I dreamed that I met with you in a garden and you said, "Now in order to help me you must do this, you need to open the all-seeing eye, you need to give me gardenias, you need to do this..." So all the things that happened to me, he said he had received before he had awakened me...
Every morning I'd awaken. One morning it was 2:20 and the next morning I said, "Oh, l am so sorry you couldn't awaken me," but I said, "I don't understand one thing-As I saw that it was 2:20, I suddenly saw your face and you were laughing: And he said, "Yes, I was laughing because you thought you had overslept, and in fact, I had overslept." So he did this for me for many, many months, awakening me. And then he said one day, "Well, I think it's enough now. You can do this on your own." Of course I did continue, but changed my hour of meditation. Two is for the birds!
I think it would be important to mention that people like to sanctify a person like that, make him a saint, put him up on a pedestal. Edgar Cayce had especially physical weaknesses. We were out with him more than once having dinner and he knew he wasn't supposed to eat highly seasoned food, and I remember one time we were with Mrs. Cayce and she said, "Now Edgar, you shouldn't order that. You know it doesn't..." And he said, "I want it." And when he said it that way, there were no other words. We saw him the next day and he was green! He said, "My wife, she was right. I was up sick all night long." Or she'd say, "Edgar, you're smoking too much..."
Bill: The one I like best is that one night they were having dinner with us. After dinner we were sitting out on the lawn and Mr. Cayce was lighting one cigarette from the butt of another. Mrs. Cayce said, "Edgar! Why are you smoking so much?" He said, "I don't have any more matches!"
JCW: Bill, you mentioned a physical reading. We'd be interested in if you can think of a good example of a physical reading that you had that was helpful to you.
Bill: We had physical readings first because who can argue with the fact he tells you that you have a problem or that you don't have a problem, and you know that is the case. So we thought before the life readings, we would go for the physical readings. And in my physical reading, for example, he found many things that I knew were right, and he found many things that I knew were bothersome to me.
I was given to sinus, sinusitis; I was given to migraine headaches, for example. He said that these were having to do with upset in the lymph system and all that sort of thing. He put me on a routine of colonic irrigations, of electrical current applications, massage, steam baths, fume baths, and so forth. Fortunately we were living in New York City, and it was just a matter of going over to Reilly's Health Institute and getting it. Again, I started a friendship with Reilly back in 1942 or '43 that exists even today.
After I started these physical treatments through Reilly, I began to show immediate improvement. And I think within a matter of probably a year, I forgot what a migraine headache was; and I had had those for years, starting when I was just a teenager. That's just one example...
Let me add something right there. I had my physical reading back there in the early 40's. ln 1970 I retired from business. And when I retired I came apart. I became all unglued as it were. Elsie and I had been on an extended trip. I came back to this country and I was suffering from acute prostatitis; I was suffering from acute hypertension, and I had some serious things besides. I was scheduled for major surgery in our home in Houston. Elsie said, "No way. We'll go up to the clinic in Phoenix." We went to the clinic. Bill McCarey started me out on another routine out there of physical therapy. The first thing we did was to call Gladys Davis back in Virginia Beach and have her send my readings out. And Bill incorporated my 40-year-old, 35-year-old, readings into my therapy. And I never had the surgery. I'm in pretty fair shape for the condition that I'm in.
Elsie: Here I thought I would have another husband-a young one, all those nice things, and then he gets well again! Can you imagine that? " Bill says he's trained me so well-according to Cayce, 10,000 years ago he was my husband, and Bill says he's not going to let that training go for naught.
JCW: Your life readings indicated that the two of you had several lives together.
Elsie: Yes, we were married 10,000 years ago in Egypt. It took me 10,000 more to get the courage to marry him again. No, I'm kidding.
Bill: She was also my mother during the Persian period. She hitchhiked a ride from the lowlands of India to [the Persian city of] Shushtar in order to join Edgar Cayce there, during his lifetime as Uhjltd. I was a caravan driver at the time, and she would never have gotten there if I hadn't given her a free ride from India.
Elsie: We've been associated on and off. You know Cayce said we've all had about 25 different companions from the beginning of time. But you're not supposed to have all 25 in one life. Remember that.
JCW: You both describe past lives rather matter-of-factly. Could you comment, each of you, just briefly on the whole notion of reincarnation and what effect this had on the way you live this life?
Bill: Elsie, rest your voice for just one minute.
Elsie: Oh, that's his excuse for talking!
Bill: Let me give you a little bit of my background, because I was born into the most dogmatic of religions: Methodist Episcopal Church South. We were so dogmatic that we taught the hard-shell Baptists how to be hard-shell. Really, you were conceived in sin, you were born in sin, you lived in sin, you unquestionably died in sin, and there's no doubt that you would burn in the fires of hell forever.
Anyway, religion was not for me; this simply was not for me. I left the church when I was 15 or 16. Didn't go back in again. Elsie and I were 27, I think, when we first had some urges to start looking. She had left her church for one reason or another, and she was born into a rather stiff Protestant religion.
We started going to a teacher in New York City back in 1937. This fellow was quite good. He proposed the idea of reincarnation, and for me everything fell into place. That was the whole answer to the whole thing. Nothing had made sense up to that time. You were born, you live and you die, and that's it! You want to strum a harp or you want to shovel coal throughout eternity? That's not much of a future. That didn't make any sense to me. But this thing of being born, always in the human form, enabled everything to fall into place.
l think that I am proof today of many lifetimes because...It reminds me of the story of the two girls who were talking. One of them said to the other, "There must be something to this reincarnation bit. I could never have made such a mess of my life in just one lifetime." And I think that has some bearing on this. I don't think that I have learned in this lifetime what I know, what I sense, what is right, my various abilities, my various interests to me are an accumulation of what I've been in all my previous lifetimes. And I think my Cayce readings prove that, the highlights that he touched.
JCW: Elsie, what are your thoughts on reincarnation?
Elsie: It was more difficult for me when I first heard about it. It just seemed like something for the birds. But my dreams started right away, and I found myself in a laboratory experimenting, and I knew it was saying experiment, try, don't give it up. And so I think above all things that my dreams, probably because of many other lifetimes, have guided me in many areas where I thought I might be wrong or there was question.
For instance, I met Bill and in three months' time we were married. And it was because of dreams that told me he was the right one that I had broken him in in other lifetimes and therefore he would be a good mate. So, that is what guided me more than anything else.
My religion was very fundamental and I had a wonderful mother who was very, very patient and there wasn't any fear as far as that was concerned. But we had a minister who sort of whacked you over the head or on your knuckles if you didn't give the right answer or if you didn't study your catechism, and that was not exactly love as the Bible taught it, you know. So I was really seeking.
And as a nurse I began to question whether there was a God because polio had broken out- that was before they had the cure for it-and I questioned if there is a God, how can He allow innocent babies to be crippled for life? There's something wrong. And it was shortly after that, that we read Cayce's biography and we got involved in this, which is the only answer. I don't know how people can live and believe in a benign and wonderful God. I guess it takes more faith than we have to believe and not understand. Or they don't have to understand. They say you don't have to understand, just believe. And that's a good beginning, I guess.
Bill: I won't go into all of the details or lifetimes of my life reading, but Cayce said that I had ability as an engineer. He said that if I chose I could earn my living as an engineer. World War II came along. I was with Evinrude Outboard Motors. Some of you may know about them. We thought we were going to be out of business so they said, "Go on Bill, get a job somewhere else and after the War's over, come back to us." I got a job as a laboratory technician with Bendix Aviation Corporation. A laboratory technician means you can clean up the benches after the engineers get through with them.
I had been there just six months and they were having courses every day-refresher courses for the engineers, and I would sit in those courses, an hour-and-a-half every day at noontime. At the end of six months' time I had been promoted to a developmental engineer both in rank, in title, and in salary. I had no engineering background. I had had three years of vocational school. Everything else had been marketing prior to that time.
During that period, Mr. Cayce said that if I so chose I could be successful as an engineer, but he indicated that I would go back into marketing, which I did. I was offered an opportunity to stay in engineering sales. I liked to sell. He said that my ability as a salesman probably stemmed from the previous incarnation in the city in the hills and plains in old Persia, a place called Shushtar. For those of you who are familiar with that aspect of the Cayce readings, during Cayce's lifetimes as Uhjltd, he had a center of healing. He had a school of learning there where people from all over the known world at that time used to come to study. And he said that I had a caravan route, camel caravan obviously, between Egypt and India. And if you know that part of the country, the caravan routes came around the southern end of the Red Sea, came across what is now Jordan...down into India. That's where I learned to sell pots and pans. That's where I learned about silk and about materials and so forth. That's where I learned the love of camels more than girls, I think.
The first time I ever saw a herd of camels, I got so excited I nearly wrecked the car. We were driving down in the back side of Jordan. We'd gotten ourselves in a mess down there. Saw this herd of camels. I never did get my camera so I could get a picture of them. Finally got a telephoto lens and I got the most wonderful picture of the south end of a northbound herd of camels that you ever saw. But today I know what a camel is thinking. I have no problem with a camel. Elsie walks up to a camel and it starts to snarl and spit. And my rapport there is just great.
Elsie: My rapport is with the higher two-legged creatures!
Bill: You're so much more spiritual than I am.
JCW: Now, let's hear from you, Elsie.
Elsie: I don't know where to start, except that Mr. Cayce gave each one of us, as you know, about four past incarnations. I might say, and I am sure other people can verify this, that those who continue to work at prayer and meditation have many others revealed to them. I had at least 20 other lifetimes revealed to me after that. But the ones that he gave me, he felt were most important and related to this particular lifetime. Gave me one in early America where my name was Elsie Gilchrist.
We went to Salem last year, and I really had a feeling of going home; I really felt very much at home. But even greater was my surprise and so sorry that we can't claim all that should be ours - the whole town was named after the Gilchrists-the streets, the banks, the library buildings, and so on. I might have been a poor cousin. But the name of Gilchrist was very, very common over there. And now I would have been happy to ask Mr. Cayce why I didn't change very much. You know Elsie Gilchrist, Elsie Sechrist. It wasn't very much of a change there. Either I'm in a rut or you all better pray for me so there's a chance for me! Anyway, he said I was associated with the Indians, helped them a great deal, and had no problems with them at all.
Then the next incarnation that he gave me was in the Holy Land. And there he said something that was very, very, true. I was telling one of the groups today or yesterday about it. That he said I was there on the day of Pentecost. And he said there is a distant chord of memory in the entity's consciousness of seeing the tongues of fire over the disciples' heads. And he was exactly right! I remember when I went to Sunday School and church and whenever that story was told, I saw the disciples standing there, and I saw the split tongues of fire descending over their heads. It was and there still was that distant chord of memory in my consciousness. He said I wasn't Jewish in that incarnation nor did I live in Palestine, but nearby, and came there at holy days. I did not know the Master. I was a child when He walked in the earth, but worked with his disciples later on and with the Essene order especially. That was when he gave me primarily a relationship to that lifetime.
And then the next lifetime he gave me was the Persian incarnation. Bill and I hope to go back there, we had a Japanese crew that was going to do all the digging because we felt we had found the place where Cayce's center had been. And then who comes along but Khomeini!
JCW: Bill, your career was in the business world. You were a business executive and you had business readings. And from those readings you developed a philosophy of business ethics that served you well. Could you summarize for us what those principles are?
Bill: I think the basic principle that Edgar Cayce preached and one if we can adhere to will help us throughout, and that was the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That runs through so many of his readings. He talked about cooperation in business, trying to help the other fellow. Don't be just willing to meet the other fellow halfway. If necessary, go 90 percent of the way or 95 percent of the way. Prayer. Holding the right ideas, the right ideals is helpful. He gave many examples of this in readings that I read and in my own reading.
Before World War II ended I was concerned about what l was going to do when the War ended, and I asked a question in one reading, "How may I best carry on after the end of World War II in order to not interrupt my spiritual growth?" l was assuming I would grow spiritually. And he said, "Don't worry about this. All you have to do is do the very best that you know how, and it will carry you. You won't have to do anything." I asked him about what company I should become associated with after the War was over. And he said any company that has a heart. And he says, specifically, General Electric has a heart, that Bendix has a heart, and I was with Bendix Aviation at the time. Elsie and I were the recipients of the bounty of that big-hearted Bendix Aviation, the likes of which you can't imagine.
Elsie: Well, you also worked with your dreams in business, too.
Bill: I could elaborate on that for several hours...I never had a problem with an employee, especially a key employee, an executive employee, that I didn't dream about it weeks or months before the experience came.
If an employee was unhappy, I would know it sometimes before the employee knew it. I would have it in a dream. I would be warned in my dreams about employees who were dishonest, for example. Getting back to this thing of the employee relationships there. Why would I dream that an employee is going to leave us, leave my company? It is twofold. Number one, I think it was because it was giving me an opportunity to counsel the employee. And I did that, have a talk with the employee and ask, why are you leaving? Do you have a better opportunity? Analyze the reason that he's leaving. Is it going to be best for that employee to leave? And in many instances it would be. Maybe the employee is stymied where he is. Go on and take advantage of that.
The other side of that coin would be if I knew I was going to lose an employee, then before that employee ever left, I could be making plans as to how to fill that slot that that employee was going to leave vacant. This is just putting it into practice.
JCW: Elsie, what about the profit motive in the psychic world? Can one or should one use one's dreams or one's psychic ability to improve one's financial situation? What are the ethics involved here?
Elsie: Well, you know there were people who felt Edgar Cayce ought not to charge for psychic readings, forgetting that even the sensitive has to live. And this question was brought up more than once and there were many people who criticized because they felt it was God's gift. Well, if you analyze that, an artist who does paintings and gets a lot of money for that, where does that gift come from? I would think all of our gifts come from the divine regard less of what we may call them. But when it has to do with something like that, there are many people who feel you ought not to charge, which I think is wrong.
Every man is worthy of his hire. Now many people, because the Bible gives the wrong impression, wonder and say Jesus was so poor. His poor father and mother, you know, they hardly had anything to eat. Cayce said not so at all! The father of Jesus was very wealthy. As a matter of fact, he was a contractor who hired others to build homes. There was no lack of money at all in the home, but somehow it isn't "Christian" to have money, I think. And some people associate poverty with spiritual virtue.
JCW: Elsie, you mentioned before one aspect of the Cayce Work, which has transformed many lives-the A.R.E. study group program. Could you say something about that?
Elsie: For 40 years, Bill and I have been in study group work and have had them in our home all those times. And it was one of the greatest blessings, greatest opportunities, not only in the opportunities that it gave us to see the change in people who came in with long faces and unhappy and not understanding life and so on; and seeing them transformed, and seeing marriages cemented, and love relationships and families helped; even loving your mother-in-law because if you don't she's gonna come back and be your sister, or your wife if you're a man, or something else! So as he pointed out, even your neighbors- same neighbors lifetime after lifetime. So don't try to run away!
For me, what was so very, very important in these readings is that there is nothing unjust in life. Now you may think you get away with something-like a person who may have gotten away with murder in this life, he'll pay for it in the next, and wonder why he is unjustly accused! There is nothing that occurs in your life that isn't there by the permission of the Father and the divine within yourself, because you need that experience. And you can't complain, then. You can't ever complain. Why, I may say to my husband that he expects too much of me, but that's natural.
JCW: It's the study group program that really encourages personal growth?
Elsie: Oh, absolutely! Because every one of those chapters is in the development of the understanding of how you become a true child of God, understand that as a true child of God. Beginning with meditation. And I can't emphasize enough-if you're just praying, it's like coming to me for help and then just talking to me. But then the moment I start giving you advice, you walk away. You pray and you're talking to God, but you never listen. And meditation is the art of listening.
And He speaks to you in dreams and visions, and the still small voice-the voice of your conscience speaks louder and more often. You become far more sensitive to the needs of others when you meet them. You may sit next to somebody and know that she is desperate because she has the need of some money, and if you've got it, you better just slip it to her. These are some of the things it behooves you to do when you become sensitive to other people and their needs. A kind word or something else, and you do become very sensitive to people and their needs. But also, you really, truly know that the Lord is your keeper. And what more could you want out of life?
JCW: Bill, would you like to add anything to what Elsie has said about the use of meditation and dreams?
Bill: I would like to go back to the study groups. We had been in the study groups for five years-prayer, meditation, dreams, the whole bit. And nothing was happening. Everything was just remaining status quo. It's not going to come instantaneously when you get into the study groups. Sometimes lights flash and bombs go off. That's not the way it is for most people. It took five years of diligently pursuing the study group efforts before I really began to see any progress, before I had my first answer to meditation and prayer. I remember one time we were really down at the bottom. Elsie kept telling me that God's arm was not short. I said, "It's not only short, it's broken in two places." One night I went to bed, we were living in California. And I said, "I don't know why I bother to pray. I don't know why I bother to meditate, but especially why do I bother to pray, 'cause nobody's listening." And I went to sleep. I felt pretty good. I had gotten it off my chest that night. Imagine now, five years of dream records and so forth...The next morning I looked out through these Washington palms out there and this blue California sky, and as I looked, as I stared, a solid gold ear 200 feet tall appeared in the sky there. I knew that was my answer.
And we were flat broke, we owed thousands of dollars to a friend, we had a broken down car, our furniture was in storage. This was in January. By the end of that year we were out of debt. I had a wonderful position again. We had two new cars. We had a nice home, and we've never been down since then. But we did stay in this study group thing.
I'd like to get back to one other point if I may, the profit motive. Money is no curse. The curse comes with what you do with it. Elsie and I are able to travel the whole world at will. We do not travel cheaply. Believe me, we enjoy the finer things, the better things of life anyway. And every bit of this has come about through guidance that we've had in dreams in how to make investments, what to do with our money, how to do it. And if the profit motive is wrong, I don't think we would have had these profits that we've had.
Elsie: Let me bring up just one thing. Bill and I had made a vow when we were first married that we would never let the sun set on anger between us and that way we thought our marriage could always be happy. Well, it worked fine but one night...See the trouble is he gets mad and it's over in an instant. I take 10 minutes just to steam up. And he looks at me 10 minutes later and says, "What's the matter with you?" I say, "What's the matter with me?" Anyway, one night I had just gotten hot under the collar, and he had gone to bed and I was so mad. I was not going to say, ''I'm sorry" first. Not this time, not this time. So I went to my bed. He was already snoring away in bed. And just as I was trying to go to sleep I saw my head rising out of smoke and two horns growing right out of my forehead. So I jumped out of my bed, jumped into his bed and put my arms around him and said, "Oh Honey, I'm sorry we quarreled." He said, "OK," and went right back to snoring. I got mad all over again!
CW: To close, I'd like to ask each of you to share in a sentence what your relationship with Edgar Cayce and his Work has meant to you?
Elsie: It's been my whole life. It has put light and meaning upon everything that is important to a human being, upon marriage, upon religion, upon God and upon the Christ, upon friendship. There's nothing that puts that glow and that beauty and that love into your heart for all human beings when you have the understanding that Cayce gave us.
Bill: I think it has enabled me to lead a-if there is such a phrase-a contented life, never satisfied, but I've been happy. I've been happy in my work. I've been happy in my work because I've understood what I was doing. I had a basic philosophy, which honestly came from Edgar Cayce, that has seen me through.
JCW: Elsie and Bill, thank you very much.
Elsie: Thank you for the opportunity!