To practitioners of PLT, the names of Dr. Milton Erickson and Edgar Cayce are well-known. Though different in many ways, each, in his own way, has made rich and significant contributions to our field. The impact of their work continues, still teaching, still guiding, still inspiring. In this article, Henry Leo Bolduc examines these two men.
After decades (even centuries) of disdain for, mistrust of, and even downright antagonism toward hypnotherapy and holistic healing (so-called nontraditional medicine), the medical profession is slowly realizing that such alternative techniques to traditional medicine can, in many cases, equal or even surpass the effectiveness of modern medicine. This realization has been brought about by increasing public awareness of the success of these alternative methods, a success that can no longer be ignored.
Although these nontraditional methods have been totally accepted for centuries in Eastern medicine, they have been for the most part ignored by western medicine until the beginning of this century, when a few pioneers began a revolution in healing techniques. Of these pioneers, two names stand out: Edgar Cayce, the famous “Sleeping Prophet” of Virginia Beach, VA, whose life work led him to be called America’s greatest mystic, and Dr. Milton H. Erickson, considered by many to be the “father” of modern hypnotherapy.
The two men could hardly have been more different in their backgrounds, lifestyles, and approaches toward healing. Despite their widely different backgrounds, however, I found startling similarities between the two. Both were innovators and will be remembered for their profound contributions to humanity. Both men shared two great assets—they were unpretentious in their daily lives, and both lived lives of service to their fellow man. Cayce had little formal education, whereas Erickson was a doctor of medicine, a psychiatrist, and an educator. It is interesting to note, also, that both men first used their healing techniques on themselves, as will be seen later.
Erickson was a pioneer in the development of modern hypnosis and psychotherapy. He developed a non-authoritarian, indirect approach to hypnotic suggestion, demonstrating that people could use their own subconscious minds to solve many of their problems. When he began his hypnosis research in the 1930’s, he was one of the first to demonstrate, experimentally, that hypnosis is a safe procedure. He was an authority on the use of hypnotic utilization, metaphorical and subconscious communication and the use of fables, stories, and teaching tales. He was one of the first therapists to put himself into a trance along with the patient. In later years he specifically did this to attune to their needs and subtle clues.
By contrast, Edgar Cayce diagnosed medical problems and prescribed remedies while in a self-hypnotic trance. He was able to do this without seeing, or even knowing, the individuals concerned. While in trance, he needed only to be given the name and address of a particular individual, and would give a discourse (called a reading) on the condition of that person. Not only was he able to describe with great accuracy the physical condition of the person’s body, he was able while in this state to look into the future and the past, in many cases relating present physical ailments to events which occurred in past lives.
While Erickson seriously questioned mysticism in his scholastic writings, in daily practice he applied the principles of holistic living. Cayce, in his readings, was the greatest advocate of a holistic life, and is considered the father of holistic healing—the healing of the whole person, not just the treatment of random symptoms.
Edgar Cayce was born in 1877 in Kentucky and spent his boyhood years on the family farm, where the fresh air and open spaces agreed with him. He developed a strong interest in the Bible while still a child, and in his preteens resolved to read it completely through once every year for his entire life. He had a strong Christian faith and drew on the inspiration and guidance he found in the Scriptures, along with prayer, to aid him in discovering and attuning himself to God’s will.
In his youth, Cayce’s life was a simple one, typical of that of most boys of his generation. However, occasionally his unusual psychic gifts became manifest. For example, one day, while alone in the woods, reading the Bible, an angel appeared to him in a vision, told him that his prayers had been answered, and asked him what he desired. He replied that he wanted to be able to help people, especially children. This desire to help others was the driving force in Cayce’s life, and, when giving readings, his primary concern was that the information be accurate and beneficial to the people for whom they were given.
As mentioned above, Edgar Cayce’s special healing gifts were first used on himself. At the age of fifteen, while playing ball at school, he was struck in the spine by a ball. The blow left him acting strangely for the rest of the day. That night, after having gone to bed, in a trance-like state he told his parents what had happened and what to do to correct the problem. They complied and the next morning he was normal, having no recollection of anything that had occurred since he had been struck.
In his early twenties, Cayce lost the use of his voice; for over a year he was able to converse only in a whisper. Local medical doctors were unable to help him. A traveling stage hypnotist was able, through hypnotic suggestion, to give some relief, but it was temporary. Eventually a local man, who had taken correspondence courses in hypnosis and osteopathy, guided him into a self-induced trance. While in trance, he described the cause of his problem, and explained in a normal tone of voice that it could be corrected through certain specific suggestions. The recommended suggestions were made, and when he awakened, Cayce’s voice was normal. He remembered nothing that had taken place while in trance.
This experience led him in 1901 to begin giving readings for other people. He continued these readings, typically twice a day, for the next 43 years, until his death in 1945. The complete significance of his work is yet to be fully appreciated. Even so, he is now recognized as one of the most amazing men of the 20th century. And this was a man who was initially very reluctant to use his exceptional ability.
Cayce’s readings emphasize that we are spiritual beings, and that all healing comes from within; the body contains the wisdom to heal itself, and will do so when given the opportunity. What is the source of this healing? The readings state that the body’s innate ability to heal itself is the direct result of the manifestation of the Divine Spirit within it. This assertion makes sense when we consider that healing is a universal property of all creation, and takes place constantly and naturally in nature.
Cayce’s readings stress that a proper motivation and the establishment of a spiritual ideal is most important in our lives. The readings tell us that we can best understand our bodies in terms of three-dimensional concepts, reflecting the three-dimensional world in which we live. There is the physical body, the mental body, and the spiritual body. Each is a separate part of us, yet they are one and the same. The Cayce readings compare the relationship of these three bodies to that of the Christian Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scientists are also recognizing that no line can be drawn between psyche and soma, between mind and body.
In our century, many of the greatest advances in hypnosis were made, recorded, and demonstrated by Milton Erickson. He is considered the most innovative hypnotherapist of our time, perhaps even of recorded time. His professional work and personal history comprise one of the amazing sagas in the history of hypnosis.
Born in 1901, Erickson spent his formative years in Wisconsin. He was born with an unusual form of color blindness. He was also arrhythmic, tone deaf, and experienced dyslexia. To use an expression often used by Edgar Cayce, if there ever existed an example of an individual turning his stumbling stones into stepping stones, it was Erickson. Years of chronic and intense pain led him to learn relaxation techniques, the use of sense memory and self hypnosis to cope with his handicaps as well as to alleviate pain and promote healing.
At the age of seventeen, Erickson almost died from polio. Like Edgar Cayce, Erickson first used his healing techniques on himself; in his case, to overcome the effects of polio. With infinite patience and determination, he recovered largely through his own efforts, developing the techniques that later became the foundation for his work as a hypnotherapist. (At age 51, he was stricken a second time with a different strain of polio, which confined him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life).
Cayce had learned early that he could literally sleep on his books and awaken with their contents imprinted on his mind. Erickson also had subconscious talents and experienced one of his many spontaneous self-hypnosis lessons as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, while pursuing his medical degree. He found that he could earn extra money writing editorials for a local newspaper. He had previously discovered an ability to work out mathematics problems while asleep, so he decided to use the same creative state to prepare his editorials.
He went to sleep planning to arise and write the paper during the night. Much to his amazement, he awoke the next morning to find the written editorial on his typewriter. He had no memory, however, of having written it! (This type of writing was originally called “automatic” writing; in modern times it is known as “inspired” writing. The Cayce source would most likely have explained that there was a vast store of universal information which the sleeping Erickson was able to channel). Erickson never read these automatic or inspired writings, but just submitted them to the paper. Later, when he read the editorials in the paper, he did not recognize them as his own writings. He discovered that “there was a lot more in my head than I realized.”
Experiences in Erickson’s youth similar to that of the automatic writing of his college days had motivated him to become a psychiatric researcher, writer, and lecturer; however, his special interest was always hypnosis. After obtaining his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin, he spent years gaining experience as a clinical therapist in mental hospitals. Eventually he went into private practice in Phoenix, Arizona, remaining an independent therapist there until his death in 1980.
Erickson encouraged people to experience life to the fullest, asserting that experience is the best teacher, and that a wealth of learning could be gained even from mistakes. His pioneering discoveries were in the separate abilities of the conscious and the subconscious minds. His own experience with inspired writing and other phenomena, combined with a lifetime of careful observations and testing, led him to conclude that people have a vast reservoir of inner wisdom and experience, though most remain quite unaware of it.
Erickson’s goal was to motivate people to use their own subconscious, or inner minds, to solve their problems, and to respond to life in new ways. “In hypnosis, we utilize the unconscious mind, the reservoir of learning. The unconscious mind constitutes a storehouse.” We have to agree when he states that there is much to our behavior that we don’t know about, that our bodies are a lot wiser than we are. Being a realist, Erickson cautioned about placing mystical interpretations on information that came by subtle clues. Some things that appear mystical, he explained, are subconscious learnings over a lifetime, things that we forget we have learned. Emotions are stored in the subconscious and at times it becomes very childlike. (Edgar Cayce would agree with Erickson but would assert that the storehouse, in addition, contains experiences learned over many lifetimes in many incarnations).
Erickson taught that learning is more than cerebral, and we must not allow the intellect to interfere with our learning. Feeling is the essential factor, he insisted. We must get the feel of it, the feel of a poem, of a picture, of a statue. Feeling is very meaningful. We feel with our hearts and minds as well as with our fingers. We feel the lessons of the past, the hopes for the future, the realities of the present.
Perhaps more important than Erickson’s teaching of hypnosis was his own use of it himself. He learned to go into hypnosis while working with patients. He taught hypnosis by having his students experience it. He concluded after long experience that it was the easiest and quickest way to learn to induce trance—by getting the “feel” of it. Erickson is quoted as saying, “At the present time if I have any doubt about my capacity to see the important things, I go into trance. When there is a critical issue with a patient and I don’t want to miss any of the clues, I go into trance.” He discovered that he could even conduct therapy while in trance. He set out to learn if he could do equally good work with reality all around him, or if he would need to go into trance; he found that he could work equally well under either condition.
In his early days, the popular term for self-hypnosis was autohypnosis (they are synonymous). He advocated using self-hypnosis to explore the mind, not just to instruct it. He claimed that if we trusted our unconscious mind, it would do the autohypnosis for us, and maybe with a better idea than we had consciously. Hypnosis has always been a very powerful tool in the workshop of the human mind. (Edgar Cayce also had first to explore his mind, not just give it hypnotic suggestions before giving his readings).
Their Legacy and Teachings
In recent years the healing power of humor has been widely publicized, and now the value of humor is even being taught in medical schools. But long before the recent recognition of humor, both Erickson and Edgar Cayce were its strong proponents. Dr. Erickson is credited with being the first to use humor as a vital part of psychotherapy. “Humor is important because it often bypasses the intellect,” he would observe. He was famous for his funny stories, practical advice, and teaching tales. For example, he once asked a friend, “Do you want a good recipe for longevity?” He told the friend, “Always be sure you get up in the morning—and you can insure that by drinking a lot of water before you go to bed.”
Cayce also spoke of humor in many of his 14,000 readings, in some cases advocating that people specifically incorporate humor into their lives—even instructing some individuals to read the Sunday funnies. To others he recommended being optimistic and making at least three people laugh each day. He explained it would be as good for them as for the other people. Even Jesus, he related, laughed and joked with people throughout his life. “For, remember, the Master smiled and laughed often, even on His way to Gethsemane.” (Edgar Cayce reading 2984-1)
Like all innovators, Dr. Erickson had to overcome some terrible prejudices in his day. For example, he was emphatically forbidden by Colorado hospital authorities to mention or use hypnosis under threat of dismissal from his internship and rejection of his state medical license. “Hypnosis was a forbidden subject,” he said, “because it required understanding. The easiest way is to not understand and call it a fake. That’s an avoidance of understanding.”
Edgar Cayce also was the victim of prejudice and ignorance during his lifetime. For example, at one time while in New York City, he gave readings for some New Yorkers at their request. At one of the readings a woman identified herself as a New York police officer and put him under arrest for fortune telling. The tabloids and columnists had a field day. Even though the case against him was dismissed, the incident left scars.
Dr. Erickson had an innate respect for people and believed that hypnosis was a natural human experience, and that all normal people could be hypnotized. As early as 1945 he was teaching that the stages of hypnosis (i.e., light, medium, and deep trance) are determined by the subject, not by the hypnotist. He stated, “The crucial step of bridging the gap between light hypnosis and deep trance can often be accomplished easily by letting the subject assume the entire responsibility for this further progress, instead of resorting to the use of overwhelming, compelling suggestions by the hypnotist.”
He also believed that practically every one could learn to be a hypnotist. However, entering hypnosis is one thing, but fully using that state for maximum benefit requires knowledge and experience. With sincere humility he professed that the therapist was really unimportant, except for his or her job of getting the patients to do their own thinking and understanding. The therapist merely has to create the climate for the patient to do the work.
In common with Erickson’s belief that anyone could be a hypnotist, the Cayce readings point out that Edgar Cayce’s abilities were not unique to him, that we all have the potential to accomplish what he did. There were apparently two sources that he accessed to obtain his information. The first is the subconscious mind. According to the readings, the subconscious minds of all humans are interconnected, and what is known to one is accessible to all. The second source was described as the superconscious mind, or the level of mind at which each individual soul is aware of its relationship to God, the source of all knowledge and wisdom. Attunement to the superconscious makes this source of infinite knowledge available to all.
Cayce tells us that at the superconscious level, we can gain access to the Akashic Record, a chronicle of everything that has ever been thought, said, or done by everyone who has ever lived. The Akashic Record, also referred to in the readings as the Book of Life, or the Book of God’s Remembrance, can be thought of as the revelation of the Creator’s all-encompassing wisdom and knowledge. According to the readings, contact with both the subconscious and the superconscious is possible for all minds, making the infinite wisdom of the superconscious available to each one of us. To communicate with these levels of consciousness, we need the ability to put our egos aside and attune ourselves to God, the universal source. In Edgar Cayce, this ability was developed much more highly than in most (the readings attribute this to his many lifetimes as a healer), but the sources that he drew upon and the information he obtained are available to everyone.
Of all the great contributions Erickson made to humanity, his work with the utilization of the past, present, and future was, to me, the greatest. He found age regression work to be particularly insightful in hypnosis, and did much research into present-life regression, but I have not found that Erickson ever experimented with past-life regression, although he did recommend the novel (for that time) procedures of automatic writing and automatic drawing as early as 1939.
He used age regression to direct one’s attention to relevant memories. These memories were then utilized to re-educate or redirect the present memories to project a positive future outcome. To make the process enjoyable and more effective, Dr. Erickson first guided people through pleasant memories and experiences. “I like initially to regress my psychiatric patients to something pleasant, something agreeable…I impress upon them that it is tremendously important to realize that there are some good things in their past, and those good things form the background by which to judge the severity of the present.”
Erickson discovered a natural link between the trance state and regression. Regression and trance are important tools in all healing and betterment, but they are only tools, not an end in themselves. Insight into a person’s past does not, of itself, change the present. Regression only suggests the direction for the present therapy. Once the past is gently and wisely explored, the process of bringing about change and improvement calls for tact and sensitivity. He set no strict limits on the conditions for change, and never forced his patients but encouraged them to set the correct pace themselves. “One does not try to force upon his patient a new pattern, but rather to reestablish the old unused and forgotten pattern of behavior the patient had previous to the development of his phobia.”
Dr. Erickson was a pioneer in the use of future progression and future perspective. He encouraged his patients to concentrate on their successful accomplishments, rather than getting bogged down in past failures and mistakes. Contrary to the practice of most psychotherapists of the past, he encouraged the patients to describe what THEY saw or felt as the successful outcome—not what the therapist hoped or wanted for an outcome. “Subjects oriented from the present to the actual future, instructed to look back upon proposed hypnotic work as actually accomplished, can often, by their ‘reminiscence’, provide the hypnotist with understandings that can readily lead to much sounder work in deep trance.”
As people previewed their future, they realized what could work for them or what might not. Once they progressed beyond the point of their successful accomplishment, they could “look back” and describe the methods that they, themselves, had used.
Edgar Cayce’s greatest contribution to mankind is the collection of 14,145 transcribed readings which spanned a time period of over 40 years (1901-1944). They are now available for research and study at the library of the Association for Research and Enlightenment at Virginia Beach, Virginia, where they are indexed under more than ten thousand major subject headings. The readings began as physical, or health, readings, but eventually expanded in scope to encompass the range of spiritual awareness. Most of the readings were for individuals, and thus deal with specific personal questions regarding physical, mental, vocational and spiritual life. However, some of them are discourses on topics such as reincarnation, Bible interpretation, ancient civilizations, world affairs, and others.
They teach that there is a oneness of all force and that force is God. God is Light, Life, and Love. Humans, all of us, are spiritual beings, children of God, with a continuity of life that has existed and will exist throughout eternity. Our sojourn in the Earth plane embraces the concepts of reincarnation, karma, and grace. The readings tell us that all questions can be answered if we but seek the Spirit within, listen to what the Spirit tells us, and trust that Spirit for the proper information, guidance, and healing. So while Cayce is remembered primarily for his contributions as a healer, his philosophy extends to our entire physical and spiritual lives. His is a philosophy of work and service to others, which, if properly applied, will lead to fuller and richer lives for ourselves and for all mankind.
In later life, Dr. Erickson received numerous honors and awards for his discoveries and achievements. He was president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and a Life Fellow of the American Psychopathological Association. He wrote extensively on the subject of hypnosis, founding and editing a journal and co-authoring several books on the subject. Well over 100 books have been written about him and his courageous work. Even the staunchest of his critics were impressed by his professionalism and his successes.
Cayce, on the other hand, saw his dream of a hospital vanish with the crash of the stock market in the early 1930’s. Like Erickson, over 100 books have been written about him. The two men never met in person, but I consider both Erickson and Cayce to be the two greatest practitioners and teachers of hypnosis and holistic living of this century.
If it were possible to condense the lives and teachings of two great men into one paper, I would—but that is not possible. Both were pioneers who explored and mapped the vast resources of the inner mind, and taught us how to use our inner wisdom and healing capacities to the best advantage. I can only attempt to summarize by suggesting that these two men, so different in background and style, yet so alike in philosophy and concern for the well-being of their fellow human beings, have made the most profound contributions to the acceptance and advancement of holistic healing and hypnotherapy of anyone in the twentieth century.
Havens, R. A. The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson. New York: Irvington, 1985.
Rossi, E. L. Healing in Hypnosis: Milton H. Erickson. New York: Irvington, 1983.
Steam, J. Edgar Cayce—The Sleeping Prophet. New York: Bantam, 1967.
Sugrue, T. There is a River. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1945.