A. E. Waite
(2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942)
Arthur Edward Waite
was one of the most prolific writer on the subjects of occultism and mysticism in his era. Born in
America but raised in England; he is best known for his
design of the Raider-Waite Tarot deck.
After his father Capt. Charles F. Waite died at sea on the 29th
September 1858 his mother returned to London to rejoin her family. Arthur had been born illegitimately
so his mother's family never really accepted them. Instead of easygoing life
style of his wealthy relatives, his mother and he lead a modest life at London's
periphery. In that time, his mother converted to
the Roman Catholic Church, the faith that influenced his later life and probable
cause of an inclination towards ceremonial.
His mother succeeded in giving him a good education and in his early twenties
while working as a clerk he started publishing poems and stories in local
literary journals. The interest in occult and spiritualism steadily grew and in
one of his visits to the British museum he came across the workings of
Levi. He decided to focus on compiling histories of the different doctrines and
occult teachings. In that time he met S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the founder
of the Order of the Golden Dawn. In January 1891 he was initiated in the Order
of the Golden Dawn although his involment was rather rare in the beginning. Part
of the problem was probably his philosophical differences with Mathers.
While the Order of the Golden Dawn deteriorated and a breakup was at hand, Waite
was introduced to Freemansonry and became a member in 1901. In 1902 he became
a member of The Societas Rosicruciana in
Anglia (S.R.I.A.). In both organizations members of the Order of the Golden Dawn
was present along with some other influential people with whom he was able to make
some useful and productive connections. Soon, he was raised to a position of a
Knights Templar at the Consecration of the King Edward VII Preceptory. His
connection with the Freemasonry faded after 1920 when he started to pursue other
interests and moved out of London.
By 1903 the Order of the Golden Dawn was separated in a few independent groups.
One of these group was the Order of the Independent and Rectified Rite which was
presided by A. E. Waite. He cared much more for mysticism than magic, many of
the members didn't approve that so the order was dissolved in 1914. In the early
1900's after finishing his book The Key to the Tarot he asked Pamela Colman
Smith, an artist and a member of the Isis-Urania Temple of the Golden Dawn
which he presided at the time, to illustrate the Tarot deck for him. The deck
was first published in 1909 and republished in 1911 with its companion volume
Pictorial Key to the Tarot, a guide to Tarot reading.
Waite died in 1943 and was buried in Bishopsbourne in Kent, where he spent most
of his later years. Today, most of his contribution to the western occultism is
forgotten. Waite was covinced to the end of his life that all esoteric symbolism
and practices have a common root and a single purpose.