A. E. Waite

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Arthur Edward Waite
Arthur Waite Author.JPG
Waite in 1911
Born(1857-10-02)2 October 1857
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died19 May 1942(1942-05-19) (aged 84)
London, England
Resting placeBishopsbourne Village, in the county of Kent, England
NationalityBritish, American
Known forRider–Waite tarot deck
Ada Lakeman
(m. 1887; died 1925)

Mary Broadbent Schofield
(m. 1925)
Children1 daughter

Arthur Edward Waite (2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942) was a British poet and scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on occult and esoteric matters, and was the co-creator of the Rider–Waite tarot deck (also called the Rider–Waite–Smith or Waite–Smith deck). As his biographer R. A. Gilbert described him, "Waite's name has survived because he was the first to attempt a systematic study of the history of western occultism—viewed as a spiritual tradition rather than as aspects of proto-science or as the pathology of religion."[1]

Early life[edit]

Waite was born in Brooklyn, New York, United States.[2] Waite's father, Capt. Charles F. Waite, died when he was very young, and his widowed mother, Emma Lovell, returned to her home country of England, where he was then raised.[3] They were well enough off to educate Waite at a small private school in North London. When he was 13, he was educated at St. Charles' College.[4] When he left school to become a clerk he wrote verse in his spare time. In 1863 Waite's mother converted to Catholicism but Arthur would become an Anglican.[5] The death of his sister Frederika Waite in 1874 soon attracted him into psychical research. At 21, he began to read regularly in the Library of the British Museum, studying many branches of esotericism. In 1881 Waite discovered the writings of Eliphas Levi.

When Waite was almost 30 he married Ada Lakeman (also called "Lucasta"), and they had one daughter, Sybil. Some time after Lucasta's death in 1924, Waite married Mary Broadbent Schofield. He spent most of his life in or near London, connected to various publishing houses and editing a magazine, The Unknown World.

From 1900 to 1909, Waite earned a living as a manager for Horlicks, the manufacturer of malted milk.[6]


Golden Dawn[edit]

Waite joined the Outer Order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in January 1891 after being introduced by E.W. Berridge.[7] In 1893 he withdrew from the Golden Dawn. In 1896 he rejoined the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1899 he entered the Second order of the Golden Dawn. He became a Freemason in 1901,[8][6] and entered the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia in 1902.

In 1903 Waite founded the Independent and Rectified Order R. R. et A. C. This Order was disbanded in 1914. The Golden Dawn was torn by internal feuding until Waite's departure in 1914; in July 1915 he formed the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross,[9] not to be confused with the Societas Rosicruciana. By that time there existed some half-dozen offshoots from the original Golden Dawn, and as a whole it never recovered.[10]

Waite photographed in London, 13 January 1921


Waite was interested in the higher grades of Freemasonry and saw initiation into Craft Masonry as a way to gain access to these rites. After joining the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Knights Templar, Waite traveled to Switzerland in 1903 to receive the Regime Ecossais et Rectifie or the Rectified Scottish Rite and its grade of Chevalier Bienfaisant de la Cite Sainte (C.B.C.S.). Waite believed that the Rectified Scottish Rite, more than any other Masonic Rite, represented the "Secret Tradition" of mystical spiritual illumination.[6]

Author and scholar[edit]

Waite was an author and many of his works were well received in the esoteric circles of his time, but his lack of academic training is visible in his limitations as a historian and in his belittling of other authors.[6]

He wrote texts on subjects including divination, esotericism, freemasonry, and ceremonial magic, Kabbalism and alchemy; he also translated and reissued several mystical works. He wrote about the Holy Grail, influenced by his friendship with Arthur Machen.[11][12] A number of his volumes remain in print, including The Book of Ceremonial Magic (1911), The Holy Kabbalah (1929), A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1921), and his edited translation of Eliphas Levi's 1896 Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual (1910), having been reprinted in recent years. Waite also wrote two allegorical fantasy novels, Prince Starbeam (1889) and The Quest of the Golden Stairs (1893), and edited Elfin Music, an anthology of poetry based on English fairy folklore.[13]

Tarot deck[edit]

The High Priestess, left, and illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, right, from the now-famous tarot deck.

Waite is best known for his involvement with the Rider–Waite tarot deck, first published in 1910, with illustrations by fellow Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith. Waite authored the deck's companion volume, the Key to the Tarot, republished in expanded form in 1911 as the Pictorial Key to the Tarot, a guide to tarot reading.[14] The Rider–Waite tarot was notable for illustrating all 78 cards fully, at a time when only the 22 Major Arcana trump cards were typically illustrated, with the Sola Busca tarot, 1491, being a notable historical exception. Prior to the publication of this deck, many esoteric tarot readers used the Tarot de Marseille playing card deck. The Rider-Waite deck has gone on to have a large influence on contemporary occult tarot.

In popular culture[edit]

Lovecraft has a villainous wizard in his short story "The Thing on the Doorstep" called Ephraim Waite; according to Robert M. Price, this character was based on Waite.[15]


  • Israfel: Letters, Visions and Poems, London: Allen, 1886.
  • The Mysteries of Magic: A Digest of the Writings of Eliphas Levi, London: George Redway, 1886.
  • The Real History of the Rosicrucians, London, 1887.
  • Alchemists Through the Ages, 1888
  • Songs and Poems of Fairyland: An Anthology of English Fairy Poetry, London, 1888
  • The Occult Sciences: A Compendium of Transcendental Doctrine and Experiment, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1891.
  • The Hermetic Museum, in two volumes. London, 1893.
  • The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelly, London, 1893.
  • Turba Philosophorum (translator), 1894
  • Devil-Worship in France. London: George Redway, 1896.
  • The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, 1898.
  • The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. London: William Ryder & Son, Ltd., 1911.
  • The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, in two volumes. London: Rebman, 1911.
  • The Book of Destiny and The Art of Reading Therein, London: William Rider & Son Ltd., 1912.
  • The Book of Ceremonial Magic, London: 1913.
  • A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1921.
  • Saint-Martin: The French Mystic and the Story of Modern Martinism, 1922.
  • The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross: Being Records of the House of the Holy Spirit in its Inward and Outward History, London: William Rider & Son Ltd., 1924.
  • The Secret Tradition in Alchemy: Its Development and Records, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.
  • The Holy Kabbalah, 1929.
  • The Tarot of the Bohemians (translated by A. E. Waite; 1958)
  • The collected poems of Arthur Edward Waite, in two volumes, London: William Rider & Son Ltd.
  • A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry (Ars Magna Latomorum) and of Cognate Instituted Mysteries: Their Rites, Literature, and History, New York: Wings Books, 1994. ISBN 0517191482.
  • The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail: Its Legends and Symbolism Considered in Their Affinity with Certain Mysteries of Initiation and Other Traces of a Secret Tradition in Christian Times], Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Fredonia Books, 2002. ISBN 1-58963-905-7.
  • Inner and Outer Order Initiations of the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, Canada: Burnaby, 2005. ISBN 0-9735931-7-2.
  • Theories As to the Authorship of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-4253-3290-0.



  1. ^ Gilbert (1987), p. 361
  2. ^ "Arthur Edward Waite". Kheper.
  3. ^ "Arthur Edward Waite". Controverscial.
  4. ^ "Arthur Edward Waite". Everything2.com.
  5. ^ (Re)creating Science in Nineteenth-century Britain. Cambridge Scholars Pub. 2007. ISBN 9781847182203.
  6. ^ a b c d Gilbert, R. A. "The Masonic Career of A. E. Waite". Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. QCCC Correspondence Circle Limited. Archived from the original on 5 September 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  7. ^ King, p. 52.
  8. ^ "Arthur E. Waite". Freemasonry.bcy.ca. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  9. ^ "Arthur Edward Waite by Lee Prosser". Ghostvillage.com. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  10. ^ Howe, Ellic,The Magicians of the Golden Dawn, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972
  11. ^ Waite, A. E., Shadows of Life and Thought: A Retrospective Review in the Form of Memoirs, London: Selwyn and Blount, 1938
  12. ^ Gilbert (1987), p. [page needed]
  13. ^ Brian Stableford, "Waite, A. E.", The A to Z of Fantasy Literature, (pp. 420–21). ISBN 0-8108-6829-6
  14. ^ Waite, A. E., The Key to the Tarot, London, 1910
  15. ^ Price, Robert M., ed. (1995). The Azathoth Cycle: tales of the blind idiot god. Oakland, California: Chaosium. p. vi. ISBN 978-1-56882-040-8.

Works cited[edit]

  • Gilbert, R. A. (1987). A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
  • King, Francis X. Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism (2nd ed.).

External links[edit]