Arthur Edward Waite (1857–1942) Author, mystic, magician, alchemist, and occultist/Arthur Edward Waite is probably best remembered as the cocreator of the popular Rider-Waite TAROT card deck. He was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and was active in both Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry.
Waite was born on October 2, 1857, in Brooklyn, New York, to Captain Charles F. Waite of the U.S. Merchant Marines and Emma Lovell, the daughter of a wealthy merchant involved in the East Indian trade. Captain Waite died at sea on September 29, 1858, leaving his wife with a baby and pregnant with their second child. After delivering Waite’s sister Frederika, the three returned to London. Emma and Charles had never married, as her family objected to the match. They did not welcome her return with two illegitimate children, forcing Emma to live in the poorer sections of north and west London. As further renunciation of her parents’ unyielding rejection, Emma converted to Roman Catholicism and raised her children in the faith.
Emma devoted her means to young Arthur’s education, however, sending him to small private schools in North London then to St. Charles’s College, a Catholic institution in Baywater. Waite worked as a clerk after graduation, writing poetry and editing a small magazine called The Unknown World, eventually pursuing writing and literary criticism full time. After his sister Frederika died in 1874, Waite began to spend even more time in the Library of the British Museum, reading and searching for the answers that he could not find in Catholicism. He eventually stumbled upon the writings of Eliphas Levi and believed he had found his life’s direction. In 1886 Waite published his first major work on the occult: The Mysteries of Magic, a Digest of the Writings of Eliphas Levi.
Waite married Ada Lakeman, known as “Lucasta,” in 1883, and they had one daughter, Sybil. While at the Library Waite had met Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, a cofounder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but he did not like Mathers and was initially unimpressed with the order. However, in January 1891 Waite and Lucasta joined the order as neophytes at an initiation ceremony held in Mathers’s home in Dulwich.
Waite never really agreed with Mathers; nevertheless, by April 1892 he had risen to the level of Philosophus. He left the order in 1893 but returned in 1896. By 1899 Waite had entered the Second Level of esoteric knowledge and was studying to receive the top degrees. The Golden Dawn, however, began a downward slide in 1897 with the resignation of Dr. William Wynn Westcott as head and the assumption of the order’s leadership by actress Florence Farr. Controlled by Mathers from Paris and unable to manage effectively, Farr allowed standards to slip, precipitating the decline of the entire London order.
To compensate, Waite joined the Runymede Lodge of Freemasonry on September 19, 1901, becoming exalted to the degree of Holy Royal Arch on May 1, 1902. That same year he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Joining the Masons and the Rosicrucians was a canny move, as many of his new fraternal brothers had been former critics of his books and positions, and despite the internal haggling and splinter groups within Golden Dawn, Waite assumed the mantle of Grand Master in 1903.
Waite’s first act as Grand Master was to change the group’s name to the Order of the Independent and Rectified Rite. Many of the members objected to the name change and to Waite’s preference for mysticism over Magic, leading to the formation of yet another group, the Stella Matutina (Order of the Morning Star), at the urging of poet William Butler Yeats. After years of disputes, Waite dissolved what was left of the Golden Dawn in 1914.
Waite wrote more than 70 books, articles, lectures, and journal contributions during his lifetime, covering subjects from alchemy to Theosophy. He had been attracted to Theosophical philosophy early on but mistrusted the movement’s founder, Madame Helena P. Blavatsky. Some of his works are still in print, including The Holy Kabbalah, the New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, and The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. The Book of Black Magic remains one of the best examinations of magical Grimoires.
He is best remembered, however, for the publication of the Rider-Waite deck of the Tarot. In 1909 Waite had published The Key to the Tarot and needed an illustrator for the book and cards. He persuaded artist Pamela Colman Smith, a member of the Golden Dawn, to illustrate the cards; they were the first deck to have illustrations for all 78 cards, including the Minor Arcana as well as the Major Arcana, and for using the drawings to suggest the Divination meanings of the cards. Occultists embraced the deck when it appeared in 1910, and it remains a favourite Tarot deck today. Waite also popularized the 10-card Tarot divination spread entitled Celtic Cross.
By the start of World War I, Waite had separated from his wife Lucasta and lived with his secretary on Penywern Road in Earl’s Court, London. He moved to Ramsgate, Kent, in 1920. Lucasta died in 1924, allowing Waite’s marriage to Mary Broadbent Schofield in 1924. Waite spent his remaining years in Kent. He died, relatively unknown, on May 19, 1942, during World War II. He is buried in the churchyard at Bishhopsbourne, where his grave is covered in a tangled growth of the deadly nightshade plant, a rather ironic ending for one whose early life as an occult celebrity ended in obscurity.
- Knowles, George. “Arthur Edward Waite.” Available online. URL: www.controverscial.com/Arthur Edward Waite.htm. Downloaded June 25, 2005.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. 1899. Reprint, York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1972.
- The Secret Tradition in Alchemy: Its Development and Records. London: Kegan Paul,Trench, Trubner, 1926.
- A Handbook of Cartomancy, Fortune-Telling and Occult Divination. London: Redway, 1889 [5th rev. ed. 1912]
- The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry. London: Rebman, 1912.
- A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (Ars magna latomorum) and of Cognate Instituted
- Mysteries: Their Rites, Literature and History. London: Rider, 1921 (2 vols.)
- Emblematic Freemasonry and the Evolution of Its Deeper Issues. London: Rider, 1925.
- The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry. [Rev. ed.] London: Rider, 1937.
- The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal: Its Legends and Symbolism Considered in Their Affinity with Certain Mysteries of Initiation and Other Traces of a Secret Tradition in Christian Times. London: Rebman, 1909.
- The Holy Grail, Its Legends and Symbolism: An Explanatory Survey of Their Embodiment in Romance Literature and a Critical Study of the Interpretations Placed Thereon. London: Rider, 1933.
- The Secret Doctrine in Israel: A Study of the Zohar and Its Connections. London: Rider, 1913.
- The Holy Kabbalah: A Study of the Secret Tradition in Israel. London: Williams & Norgate, 1929.
- The Life of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher, and the Substance of His Transcendental Doctrine. London: Welby, 1901.
- Saint-Martin the French Mystic and the Story of Modern Martinism. London: Rider,1922.
- The Real History of the Rosicrucians Founded on Their Own Manifestoes and on Facts and Documents Collected from the Writings of Initiated Brethren. London: Redway, 1887.
- The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. London: Rider, 1924 [revision of above title]
- The Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination. London: Rider, 1910 [issued with a deck of cards designed by Waite]
- The Pictorial Key to the Tarot … 1911 [reprint of above title with card illustrations reproduced in the book]
General mysticism & occult spirituality
- The Occult Sciences: A Compendium of Transcendental Doctrine and Experiment,Embracing an Account of Magical practices, of Secret Sciences in Connection to Magic, of the Professors of Magical Arts, and of Modern Spiritualism, Mesmerism and Theosophy. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1891.
- The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. London: Redway, 1898.
- Studies in Mysticism and Certain Aspects of the Secret Tradition. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906.
- The Book of Ceremonial Magic: The Secret Tradition in Goetia, Including the Rites and Mysteries of Goetic Theurgy, Sorcery, and Infernal Necromancy. London: Rider, 1911 [revised edition of The book of Black magic]
- The Book of Destiny, and the Art of Reading Therein. London: Rider, 1912.
- Raymund Lully, Illuminated Doctor, Alchemist and Christian Mystic. London: Rider,1922.
- Lamps of Western Mysticism: Essays on the Life of the Soul in God. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1923.
Literary & other works
- Prince Starbeam: A Tale of Fairyland. London: Burns, 1889.
- The Golden Stairs: Tales from the Wonder-World. London: Theosophical Pub., 1893.
- Belle and the Dragon: An Elfin Comedy. London: James Elliott, 1894.
- The Collected Poems of Arthur Edward Waite. London: Rider, 1914.
- Shadows of Life and Thought: A Retrospective Review in the Form of Memoirs. London: Selwyn & Blount, 1938 [autobiography]
Works edited &/or translated by Waite
- The Mysteries of Magic: A Digest of the Writings of Eliphas Levi. London: Redway, 1886 [2nd ed., rev. & enlarged.1897]
- Elfin Music: An Anthology of English Fairy Poetry. London: Scott, 1888.
- Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers / [Francis Barrett]. London: Redway, 1888.
- The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelly. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- Collectanea Chemica: Being Certain Select Treatises on Alchemy and Hermetic Medicine. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- A Golden and Blessed Casket of Nature’s Marvels / Figulus Benedictus. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- The Hermetic Museum Restored and Enlarged. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- A Lexicon of Alchemy / Martin Ruland. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony / Basilius Valentinus. London: James Elliott, 1893.
- The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, of Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus the Great. London: James Elliott, 1894 (2 vols.)
- The New Pearl of Great Price / Petrus Bonus of Ferrara. London: James Elliott, 1894.
- Transcendental Magic / Eliphas Levi. London: Redway, 1896.
- The Turba Philosophorum; or, Assembly of the Sages. London: Redway, 1896.
- The Gift of the Spirit: A Selection from the Essays of Prentice Mulford. London Redway,1898.
- Neurypnology; or, The Rationale of Nervous Sleep, Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism or Mesmerism / James Braid. London: Redway, 1899.
- Obermann / Etienne Pivert de Senancour. London: Welby, 1903.
- The Gift of Understanding: A Second Series of Essays / Prentice Mulford.. London: Philip Wellby, 1907.
- The History of Magic / Eliphas Levi. London: Rider, 1913.
- The Works of Thomas Vaughn. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1919 [based on earlier editions of Vaughn by Waite in 1888 & 1910].
Works about Waite
- Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 1983 (1421-2)
- Longman Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature, 1970.
- New Encyclopedia of the Occult / John Michael Greer. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 2003.
- Twentieth Century Authors. New York: Wilson, 1942 (1462-3)
- Elisabeth Brewer. “Charles Williams and Arthur Edward Waite” in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review 4 (1983) 54-67.
- Robert Galbreath. “Arthur Edward Waite, Occult Scholar and Christian Mystic” in Bulletin of Bibliography 30:2 (April-June 1973) 55-61.
- R. A. Gilbert. A. E. Waite: A Bibliography. Aquarian Press, 1983.
- R. A. Gilbert. A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts. Wellingborough: Crucible, 1987.
- Harold van Buren Voorhis. Arthur Edward Waite: A Checklist of His Writings, 1932.