Arthur Waite was born in Brooklyn, NY, on the 2nd of October 1857. His father Charles F. Waite was a Capt in the American Merchant Marine, while his mother Emma Lovell was the English daughter of a wealthy London merchant involved in the East India trade. Just a year after he was born and while on a voyage from Connecticut to London, Waite’s father died at sea on the 29th September 1858. Widowed and pregnant at the time, after giving birth to his sister Frederika, Emma and the children returned to London, England.
What is not generally known, is that the children had been born illegitimately, for Emma and Capt Waite had never been legally married, her family had objected to it. On her return to London and due to her family’s continued ostracism, she was forced to rear her children in the poorer less fashionable suburbs of north and west London. The rejection of her family also caused her to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, a faith she past on to her son and daughter.
Waite was a regularly reader at the Library of the British Museum, studying many branches of esotericism. It was here that he came across the writings and teachings of Eliphas Levi, and realized where his direction lay. While he had already written and published numerous poems and romances, he also recognized his shortcomings as a writer of fiction, and therefore decided to concentrate on a career as a critic and compiler on the history and doctrines of occultism. It was here while studying at the British Museum that he first came into contact with the likes of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the original founders of the ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’, but at the time he didn’t liked him.
In 1883/1884 he married Ada Lakeman 'Lucasta' with whom he had one daughter Sybil Waite. Later in January 1891, Waite and 'Lucasta' were initiated into the Neophyte grade of the Order of the Golden Dawn. The initiation took place at the Mathers’ house, Stent Lodge in Dulwich, near to the Horniman Museum were Mathers worked. However, 'Lucasta' was never enthusiastic and Waite’s attendance and involvement was sporadic. Waite had always been biased in favor of the path of the Mystic rather than that of the Occultist, so he didn’t always see eye to eye with Mathers and never felt happy in the original Golden Dawn. However he persisted and by April 1892 had advanced to the 4 = 7 grade of Philosophus.
Waite died on the 19th of May 1943 and was buried in the churchyard at Bishopsbourne in Kent, where he spent most of his later years. Despite his prolific contributions to the rituals and lectures that make up the history of Freemasonry, he was accorded just a brief, three-paragraph obituary in The Freemasons' Chronicle (vol. 135, p. 178, 6 June 1942). In it he was merely characterized as a poet and writer on Freemasonry. Waite’s grave is now obscured by a thick growth of deadly nightshade, an appropriate parallel to the blight that has fallen on his reputation.
A prolific writer of over seventy books, lectures, rituals and contributions to many journals and magazines, Waite’s lasting legacy is not through his writing, but through his creation of the Rider Waite Tarot Deck. In the early 1900's as head of the reconstructed Isis-Urania Temple of the Golden Dawn, Waite had just completed his book ‘The Key to the Tarot’ and needed someone to illustrate it. One of his members was an accomplished artist Pamela Colman Smith; he commissioned and directed her in the design of a beautiful set of cards. The main innovation being the illustration of all cards, not just the Major arcana but the Minor cards too, and in such a way as to be pictorially suggestive of their divinatory meanings. He also made popular the spread known as the Celtic Cross, which was then taught in the First Order of the Golden Dawn.
Of his writings and scholarly pursuits, Waite produced translations of Eliphas Levi and Papus, as well as re-issues of mystical and alchemical works such as those of Thomas Vaughan. Some of his main works include:
- The Mysteries of Magic (1886)
- Handbook of Cartomancy (1889)
- The Occult Sciences (Keagan Paul – 1891)
- Devil-Worship in France (Redway 1896)
- Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1901)
- Studies in Mysticism (1906)
- A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry (1921)
- Emblematic Freemasonry (1925)
- The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry (1937)
- His autobiographical Shadows of Life and Thought (1938)
Other books include: Book of Ceremonial Magic, Book of the Holy Grail, Quest of the Golden Stairs, Belle and the Dragon, Unknown World, Works of Thomas Vaughan, The Way of Divine Union, Strange Houses of Sleep, Azoth or the Star in the East, Book of Spells, Collected Poems of Arthur Edward Waite, The Golden Dawn Tarot, Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, Hidden Church of the Holy Grail, Raymond Lully: Illuminated Doctor, Alchemist and Christian Mystic, Secret Doctrine in Israel, Three Famous Mystics, Turba Philosophorum, Understanding the Tarot Deck, and The Way of Divine Union.
Finally, during his life, Waite may well have developed from a poor background and poor education, into a snobbish man of distinction, contemptuous and critical of his contemporaries, he certainly ruffled a few feathers during his time. But isn’t that the trait of many a great man? Despite dedicating much of his life to Freemasonry, few if any masons in England would seem to think so. Not so in America, were a large collection of his writings, lectures and letters, have been collected and stored for prosperity in the Iowa Grand Lodge Library, Ceder Rapids. USA.
Free eBooks (Can Be Downloaded):Louis Claude De Saint Martin - Man His True Nature And Ministry
Marylynn Saul - A Rebel And Witch The Historical Context
Scott Cunningham - Earth Air Fire And Water More Techniques Of Natural Magic
Marion Crawford - The Witch Of Prague