History of the Manuscripts of A Course in Miracles

Kenneth Wapnick Ph.D.

History of the
Manuscripts of
A Course in Miracles

Kenneth Wapnick Ph.D.

The Editing

Helen, Bill, and I called Bill’s original typing the Urtext, from the German word ur, meaning “original.” The word has come to refer to any original manuscript. Bill would read back to Helen what he had typed to be sure they got every word right. There were times when Helen did not read everything in the notebooks to Bill, because, as she told me later, she knew it did not belong. And sometimes she dictated something directly to Bill that was not in the notebooks. I mention all this to emphasize that she did not consider every word to be sacred; it was obvious to her that a great deal of this early material was personal, and also clear to her that sometimes she got in the way. Again, the early writings were awkward and inconsistent. One example of this is that Helen wrote down: “Miracles are cobwebs of steel.” Jesus then said to her: “That’s not what I said,” and corrected it. A lot of that went on, for at the beginning the scribing was informal.

Helen then retyped the text twice, and in the process did some editing, per Jesus’ instructions. It was something for her to do at night—a distraction in a sense. She liked to be distracted, as also seen in her paying attention to form and avoiding the content. In fact she used to say to Bill: “You pay attention to what it says. I’ll pay attention to how it says it.” She was always very proud of the poetic nature of the writing.

Jesus very clearly told both Helen and Bill that whatever was personal or specific did not belong in the published version, even though there was no thought then of publishing it. It was obvious at some point, though, that this was not just for Helen and Bill, so they were specifically told to take out all material that did not belong to the actual teaching. There was a wisdom to this, not only because much of it was private and not meant for anyone else to see, but also, as Helen was more than aware, because her ego definitely got in the way. The workbook needed no changes at all; it was pretty straightforward, and the manual was the same way, because by that time Helen was really in the scribal groove, as it were, the writing just flowed through her.

As I mentioned, Helen and Bill had become friendly with Hugh Lynn Cayce, who was a southern gentleman in every respect, obviously dedicated to his father’s work. He was very supportive of what Helen had done and was impressed by her. There is a cute story in this regard. I think the second or third time that Helen and Bill went down to Virginia Beach to see him, they showed him some of what Helen was already taking down, and he was impressed, believing that his father had something to do with it. One of the stylistic peculiarities of the early portions of the scribing is that it sounded like Edgar Cayce, with some obvious “Cayceisms.” If you think the Course is hard to read, you should try reading Cayce. There are a lot of archaicisms in the Cayce material, and Helen, having read some of Cayce’s work, was influenced by him. And so you can see this influence at the beginning of the text, but it quickly falls away.

And so this one time, a very skittish and anxious Helen was leaving Hugh Lynn’s office, and he said to her: “You must be a very advanced soul, but you certainly don’t look it.” This was part of Helen’s “costume.” She did not look “very advanced,” I assure you, although she had a definite air of authority about her, unmistakable to anyone who knew her. Yet she acted like a typical neurotic—phobic and anxious— and was quick to judge; at the same time that this exalted piece of writing was coming through her.

Early in the process of the retyping, Jesus told Helen: “Leave decisions about editing to Bill.” At that point, Bill was reasonably sane about the Course and Helen was not—she would have taken out anything that did not “read right” to her. This instruction had to do with the original version that Helen was so anxious about, and therefore her judgment would not be clear—Bill’s would be—about taking out the early material that did not belong. That certainly did not mean that Bill was the one to do all  the editing. This was not his strength. Helen was the editor on their team. Bill did not have the patience for it. In fact, when Helen and Bill would write articles—they published many professional articles—Bill would write the rough draft. Helen then would tear it apart, edit, and re-edit it—still another source of tension in their already fractious relationship, for they would argue constantly. Helen was indeed an inveterate editor, and here is a funny story in that regard. There was the time when I had a luncheon appointment with a friend, which Helen knew about. When I was about to leave the office, Helen was on the phone, and so I wrote her a very brief note, telling her I was leaving. Without pausing in her conversation, she took out a pencil and began to edit it!

Regarding the Course, Helen never made editorial decisions on her own. She was very clear that this was not her book. While she claimed to be responsible only for the form, not the content that she knew was not hers, she did nothing with this course that she did not feel came with Jesus’ blessing, including any thoughts from Bill about what should be left in or taken out. As the editing proceeded, the text was originally put in four volumes of thesis binders. Helen would only want to show people volume IV because the writing there is so beautiful.

Helen and Bill prepared an edition of the text for Hugh Lynn (and later the workbook and manual), which we (Helen, Bill, and I) came to call the Hugh Lynn Version, to differentiate it from the earlier manuscripts. Thus, in this version there was a footnote that expressed gratitude to Hugh Lynn for his support. Though gracious and sincere, it was obviously meant only for Hugh Lynn Cayce. Also in that version, an earlier archaicism was left in, where the Holy Spirit was referred to as the Spiritual Eye, merely because Helen was nervous about the phrase “Holy Spirit.” Therefore she used “Spiritual Eye” as a euphemism—a phrase, I think, that Cayce used. It dropped away after the early sections, but it had been left in for the Hugh Lynn Version. And so Helen decided to replace it with “the Holy Spirit”.

I met Helen and Bill in the late fall of 1972[1] I was in the midst of my own journey then, and was on the way to the Middle East. When I returned in May 1973, I saw A Course in Miracles for the first time, and what I saw was this Hugh Lynn Version. I read it through twice—the text,  workbook, and teacher’s manual. After my second reading—the fall of 1973—I said to Helen and Bill that I thought the Course needed another edit, for a number of reasons. The capitalization was notoriously inconsistent. Helen felt that with very few exceptions, and I will mention those as we go along, Jesus left it to her to capitalize, punctuate, make paragraph breaks, and put in titles, because the text came through without titles or breaks—no sections, chapters, or even paragraphs. Helen, again, felt that was her job; that in effect Jesus did not care about commas, semicolons, or paragraphs, but only the message. And so Helen supplied the capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, and, along with Bill, the section and chapter titles. One prominent exception was Jesus’ insistence that Son of God always be capitalized, to distinguish the Course’s usage from the traditional Christian one, where the term was reserved for Jesus alone, and always capitalized. Therefore, he wanted the same capitalized term to be used throughout the Course, but with the meaning extended to embrace everyone, not just him. Atonement had to be capitalized, too, differentiating it from the ego’s atonement.

With those very, very few exceptions, everything on the form level was left to Helen. Thus, when I read it, I felt that Helen’s idiosyncrasies needed to be smoothed out, and both Helen and Bill agreed. Let me briefly discuss some more of these.  Helen went through a period where any word remotely associated with God or Heaven got capitalized. And then Helen had two comma philosophies: more and less. Moreover, she had a quaint British way of using a semicolon when a colon should be used. The section and chapter titles were also a bit strange. Helen would often entitle a section based on the first paragraph, and therefore many titles did not quite fit, and some of the section breaks seemed arbitrary as well. The paragraphing, too, was very inconsistent, and I later found out why. Helen went through a period when she thought every paragraph should have nine lines. She also had two philosophies about the usage of the words that and which, and could not make up her mind which it should be; sometimes it would be which, other times that, and I often had to go back over our editing and change a that into a which, and vice versa. And the same with punctuation. Helen would frequently change her mind about the commas, and so I would go back over the manuscript and make the necessary adjustments.

What is important about this is to realize that Helen was very loose with this course—not with the meaning, to be sure, nor the vocabulary, but in the sense that the form was not sacrosanct to her. Indeed, none of us thought this was a sacred text in which every word was literally the Word of God. Helen knew what A Course in Miracles said, and knew the way it should say it, and she never deviated from that, despite tinkering with the form.

There also was some material that did not belong, as it seemed to be remnants from the old days—nothing that made any difference in terms of the teaching; for example, there was a discussion about Freud that did not fit, for it came out of nowhere and was out of keeping with the rest of the material.

There was a tremendous amount of punning and word-play in the dictation, some of which is still there, but nothing to the extent that it was at the beginning. Bill was a marvelous punster, and I have rarely met anyone as quick or as clever with puns as he was. And so there were all these puns that seemed designed to make Bill more comfortable. Some of these were dreadful and were removed. Here is one example: Jesus was making the point that he could reinterpret anything the ego made into a right-minded thought. And so he took some of the more prominent Freudian defense mechanisms and gave them spiritual interpretations. It seemed a bit too cute to us to keep in. One example had to do with fixation—we should be fixated on the divine; and sublimation—we should be oriented towards the sublime. Therefore, these were taken out.

Bill had a thing about there being fifty miracle principles—he liked the round number. When the principles originally came through, there were forty-three, and this metamorphosed over the course of Helen’s re-typings to fifty-three. In the original, as I mentioned earlier, a miracle principle was given, and then came a long discussion, followed by another principle. It was all very informal. Helen and Bill, and then Helen and I—which I will get to shortly—made some changes, where discussion material from the miracle principle was taken out and put into a separate section in the same chapter. Since Bill wanted fifty, and we knew this would not change the content at all, Helen and I simply followed the earlier procedure by removing three principles and incorporating them into other sections in the chapter. So these were the kinds of things we did, and Helen never made the final decision without checking first with Jesus to see if there were any objections.

After discussing these editing issues, Helen and Bill agreed that the Course should really be gone through one more time—word by word. As I have said, Bill lacked the patience for this kind of work; he would not have been able to sustain that much concentrated time with Helen over the long period this would take. In addition, Helen and I were very comfortable with each other and knew we would have no difficulty with this particular assignment. And so we all agreed that Helen and I would go through the entire Course, word by word. This took over a year, most of the time being spent on the text, as the workbook and manual required practically no editing.

We spent an inordinate amount of time on the first four chapters. It has been suggested, I know, that this editing is something I essentially did on my own, or that I influenced Helen’s decisions. Anyone who knew Helen would clearly recognize the  absurdity of this idea. No one, including Jesus, could ever get her to do anything she did not want to do. To think that I could have had an influence on Helen is most strange. Indeed, we were very close and she respected me—I was like her spiritual son—but in no way could that be taken to mean that something I might suggest would be seen as gospel, unless she believed it to be true and checked it first with Jesus.

Let me give another example of personal material that was taken out. There was a section called “True Rehabilitation” that was specifically meant for Bill, to help him with his own bodily concerns as he prepared to attend a conference on rehabilitation at Princeton University. While the message was personal to Bill, it remained in the Hugh Lynn Version that Helen and I were editing. We all agreed it did not belong in the published Course (although I did reproduce it in Absence from Felicity). However, the close of the message contained a lovely prayer, which was perfect for the Course. Helen and Bill asked me to find a place for it, and “Special Principles of Miracle Workers” in Chapter 2 seemed like a perfect fit, where it is now. Among ourselves we referred to it as the “Prayer for Salvation,” and it begins with the words: “I am here only to be truly helpful.”

There were three other sections, or parts of sections, that began as personal messages to Helen, or to Helen and Bill, but fit in perfectly with the flow of the teaching material: “True Empathy” (Chapter 16), “I Need Do Nothing” (Chapter 18), and “The Branching of the Road” (Chapter 22). There is also “Right Teaching and Right Learning” in Chapter 4, which was originally meant for Bill, who was terrified of having to teach an undergraduate course in psychology at Columbia University. The personal material was removed (though, again, I cite much of this in my book), leaving the more general teaching. There was also an interesting addition. A relatively major focus of my time with Helen was her poetry, and one of my “assignments” was to rescue scraps of poems that Helen would write on little pieces of paper. If I were able to preserve these, Helen was later able to generate the rest of the poem. This was always successful, except for one fragment that Helen could never do anything with. Finally one day, she said to me that this fragment was not a poem but belonged in the Course, and she wanted me to find the right place. The verse began with the lines “There is a risk in thinking death is peace,” and it found its rightful home in Chapter 27 of the text. All  these examples are discussed in more detail in Absence from Felicity, and they serve to illustrate the point that the scribing of A Course in Miracles was more informal than one might have thought.

You can see Helen’s writing on our edited pages, which remain in my safekeeping. My writing is there as well, where I rewrote something as per her instructions, or made suggestions for her to review. As often as possible during the day, Helen and I would go through the Course, and every once in a while Helen would say, “I changed this word. This is what it should be,” and we would go back to what she originally heard. Any changes that were made I would then take home with me, type up, and present the copy to Helen the next day, and we would go over it. To repeat, the first four chapters were a tremendous amount of work, so much so that I once said to Helen: “Why don’t you just ask Jesus to dictate this again; it would save us both a lot of time.” I shall not repeat her not-so-delicate response.

Thus, anything that was changed was done so, first of all, because of style—the writing, to use Helen’s word, was clunky, meaning awkward. And so she wanted to clarify the writing because she knew her hearing was not that clear in the beginning. We made the changes that Bill had requested—we took material out of the miracle principles and made it into sections, as I mentioned earlier, so that there would be exactly fifty.

Therefore, we kept the meaning, and the changes made it much more readable. What was originally there was not how it was supposed to be in the published version. Again, Helen’s hearing was rusty at the beginning, and her considerable anxiety colored what she heard. Students really have to be clear that these are not the literal words of Jesus—the meaning is, but not the actual language. As I said before, Helen’s ego got in the way of some of the more specific messages to her (and Bill).

When the editing was completed, we then had it retyped. When I later saw the notebooks and Urtext, I realized that some of what I was reading was not in the published text, but clearly should have been as it came later in the scribing, an obvious result of Helen’s retypings. For example, when Helen was retyping the text, one of the pages had stuck to another. As a result, there were three paragraphs she never saw when she was typing. Therefore that material never made it into that version or any of the subsequent ones. Nothing in those paragraphs was different in meaning from what was already in the Course, but clearly should have been in. I recognized, too, other passages that had been inadvertently left out. When the written material is typed and retyped, mistakes happen, especially if the retypings are not adequately proofread, which was the case with the Course. We subsequently did proofread it at our Foundation in New York, with one group of people reading from the Urtext to be sure that we finally got everything right. We discovered there were words, sentences, and paragraphs left out, mostly in the text, and one we found had been omitted from the teachers manual. Incidentally, an errata booklet, available free of charge from the Foundation, was prepared for the second printing and lists all of the added material.

There were some other minor corrections and changes. As A Course in Miracles was originally written for Helen and Bill, Jesus would frequently address her and Bill and say, you and each other. However, the Course is not meant to be read by anyone but one person—each of us—who is involved in a myriad number of relationships. And so you and each other became you and your brother. The change was easy, for it maintained the meter—always a concern of Helen. Yet we had missed some in our editing.

The decision made by the Foundation for Inner Peace and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles to put out a second edition of the Course in the early 1990s gave us a chance to restore all the omitted material. This was also the time when we instituted the numbering system, which we needed for the concordance we were working on[2], as well as to provide a common way of referring to verses for the various translations that were beginning to emerge, similar to the Bible where, for example, anyone in the world can find John 5:16, regardless of the edition, pagination, or language. You just go to the fifth chapter, sixteenth verse in John’s gospel. With the new numbering system, Course students all over the world could do the same thing.


[1].  Again, the details of our meeting and relationship can be found in my Absence from Felicity.
[2]. The Concordance of "A Course in Miracles" was published in 1997.