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Obituaries

Jess Stearn, 87; Wrote on the Occult, Reincarnation

April 01, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jess Stearn, best-selling author of about 30 books on the occult, including biographies of reincarnation advocate Edgar Cayce, has died. He was 87.

Stearn died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at his home in Malibu.

Stearn's best-known books include "The Sleeping Prophet: The Life and Work of Edgar Cayce" (1968) and "A Prophet in His Own Country: The Story of the Young Edgar Cayce" (1974), which a Times book reviewer rated "a real writing achievement."

In the first, more comprehensive book, Stearn described Cayce as "a semi-literate health evangelist who boasted miraculous curative and prophetic powers." The book, a bestseller, earned grudging praise from critics for what one termed its "first-rate and difficult job of conveying the character of a very complicated man."

Cayce, poor and uneducated, became known as a clairvoyant who, while under a hypnotic trance, could diagnose physical ailments and prescribe cures, predict the future and discuss a subject's past and future lives. In 1931, he founded the Assn. for Research and Enlightenment, focusing on reincarnation, with a dozen members. Still in existence, the organization, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., now has more than 80,000 members.

"Death is just a comma in the book of life," Stearn told a conference of the group in Anaheim in 1990.

Stearn, educated at Syracuse University, was an unlikely believer--beginning his career with 17 years as a reporter for the New York Daily News, followed by a stint as an associate editor at Newsweek.

But he began to accept Cayce's theories of serial lives and other aspects of the occult while researching the 1968 biography of the clairvoyant who earned his living as a photographer.

"Most mystics are simple, uneducated people," Stearn told The Times in 1971. "Edgar Cayce dropped out of the fifth grade when he was 16 years old. He wasn't an intelligent man, but he had the gift to prescribe medical cures and predict the future while in a trance. He lived poor and he died poor. He felt if his powers were used for personal gain, it would destroy him."

Stearn wrote another popular occult book based on the true story of a Canadian girl who assumed the personality of Susan Granier, a pioneer settler who lived in Ontario during the 19th century. It is titled "The Search for the Girl With the Blue Eyes."

The author also had a long association with novelist Taylor Caldwell and wrote "The Search for a Soul: Taylor Caldwell's Psychic Lives" (1973). Four years later, Stearn collaborated with Caldwell on the book "I, Judas," telling the story of Jesus' betrayal from the point of view of the betrayer, Judas.

Among Stearn's other books on the occult are "The Door to the Future," "Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation," "The Seekers," "Adventures Into the Psychic," "The Miracle Workers: America's Psychic Consultants" and "A Matter of Immortality: Dramatic Evidence of Survival."

He also wrote books of reportage, including his first, "Sisters of the Night: The Startling Story of Prostitution in New York Today" (1956), and "The Sixth Man" (1961), which a Times reviewer described as "a well-written and well-organized exposition on male homosexuality."

Stearn is survived by a daughter, Dr. Martha Stearn; a son, Fred; a sister, Enid Sterling; and one grandson.

No funeral services are planned for the author, who became convinced that he had lived previously and will live again.

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