Arthur Edward Waite


A.E. Waite was born in New York in 1857; his father was a Merchant Marine captain and died at sea when Arthur was only a child, whereupon his English mother returned to London to raise him and his sister in poverty, disowned by her prosperous merchant family because she had never legally married Waite's father. She converted to the Roman Catholic church, which was a formative influence in Arthur's life, instilling in him a lifelong fixation on ceremonialism and ritual, even though he would drift away from the teachings of the church. Arthur, unable to afford proper schooling, taught himself through the reading of medieval fantasies and pulp fiction. He dabbled with spiritism and Theosophy, and was much influenced by the writings of Eliphas Levi. Unlike his friend Arthur Machen, Waite's career was not destined to be fiction writing, but independent scholarship. He had already set out upon what would be a lifelong course and specialization, namely, the scholarly examination and popularization of occult and mystical philosophies.

Early on, Waite's published writings spoke highly of the theory behind Freemasonry; he asserted that "in its vulgar aspect its object is benevolence and providence; in its esoteric significance it is an attempt to achieve the moral regeneration of the human race; by the construction of a pure, unsectarian system of morality, to create the perfect man'." A high ideal, and one which Waite sought for in all the organizations he was to be involved with; yet he cautioned his readers: "From a century of contradictory sources it borrows a many-splendoured aureole of romance and of esoteric fable, which is eminently liable to attract the soul-student at the threshold of mystic research....We must counsel him to overcome this gravitation of his desires towards Masonry. There is no light there; there is no secret of the soul enshrined in the recesses of its suggestive ceremonial; whatever it may have been in the past, at the present day it neither is, nor claims to be, more than a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegories and illustrated by symbols."

Waite joined the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1891 and was admitted into the Second Order (R.R. et A.C.) in 1899. During this time he continued his occult writings, translating alchemical manuscripts and editing an occult journal.

His entry into the Second Order was short-lived, however, and not by his own design; it was to fragment and dissipate within a year. Despite his earlier criticism of modern Freemasonry's degenerate condition, Waite later became a Mason, and also started his own Orders, first the Rectified Order of the Golden Dawn (in 1904) then the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross in 1915.

Waite spent the rest of his life researching and writing on various occult and hermetic subjects, specializing in the history of Freemasonry; though he was often attacked (and not only by his arch-nemesis, Crowley) for supposedly sloppy research and a bombastic prose style, Waite ironically was a rational expounder of Masonic history, and possessed a healthy sceptical faculty. He was instrumental in the development of the famous Rider-Waite Tarot deck (the most popular tarot of all time), and wrote numerous books, many of which are still readily available and well-read to this day. Ironically, Waite died (at the age of 90) only a few days after Aleister Crowley's own death in 1947.

There is an excellent Waite site to be found