A. E. Waite

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Arthur Edward Waite
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. 1888; died 1924)
Mary Broadbent Schofield
(m. 1933)
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 protoscience or as the pathology of religion."[1]

He was a Freemason, as well as being a member of the SRIA and Golden Dawn.

He spent most of his life in or near London, connected to various publishing houses and editing a magazine, The Unknown World.

Early life and education[edit]

Arthur Edward Waite was born on 2 October 1857 in Brooklyn, New York, America, to unmarried parents.[2] Waite's father, Capt. Charles F. Waite, died at sea when Arthur was very young, and his widowed mother, Emma Lovell, returned to her home country of England, where he was then raised.[2] They were well enough off to educate Waite at a small private school in North London.

When he was 13, he was educated for two terms at St. Charles' College.[3] When he left school to become a clerk he wrote verse in his spare time. In 1863 Waite's mother converted to Catholicism and Arthur was raised a Catholic.[4] 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.


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.[5] 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,[6][2] 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,[7] 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.[8]


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 Régime Ecossais Rectifié or the Rectified Scottish Rite and its grade of Chevalier Bienfaisant de la Cité 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.[2]

Waite photographed in London, 13 January 1921

Writer and scholar[edit]

Waite was a writer 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.[2]

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.[9][10] 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.[11]

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.[12] The Rider–Waite tarot was notable for illustrating all 78 cards fully, at a time when only the 22 Major Arcana 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.

Personal life[edit]

In 1888, he married Ada Lakeman (also called "Lucasta"), and they had one daughter, Sybil. From 1900 to 1909, Waite earned a living as a manager for Horlicks, the manufacturer of malted milk.[2]

Lucasta died in 1924.[2] In 1933, Waite married Mary Broadbent Schofield.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Thing on the Doorstep" includes a character named Ephraim Waite. According to Robert M. Price, this character was based on A. E. Waite.[14]


  • Waite, A. E. (1886a). Israfel: Letters, Visions and Poems. London: Allen.
  • Waite, A. E. (1886b). The Mysteries of Magic: A Digest of the Writings of Eliphas Levi. London: George Redway.
  • Waite, A. E. (1887). The Real History of the Rosicrucians. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Waite, A. E. (1888a). Alchemists Through the Ages.
  • Waite, A. E. (1888b). Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers. London: George Redway.
  • Waite, A. E. (1888c). Songs and Poems of Fairyland: An Anthology of English Fairy Poetry. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Waite, A. E. (1891). The Occult Sciences: A Compendium of Transcendental Doctrine and Experiment. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Waite, A. E. (1893). The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelly. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Waite, A. E. (1896). Devil-Worship in France. London: George Redway.
  • Waite, A. E. (1898). The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts.
  • Waite, A. E. (1909). The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail.
  • Waite, A. E. (1910). Steps to the Crown.
  • Waite, A. E. (1911a). The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. London: William Ryder & Son, Ltd.
  • Waite, A. E. (1911b). The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry. London: Rebman. Two volumes.
  • Waite, A. E. (1912). The Book of Destiny and The Art of Reading Therein. London: William Rider & Son Ltd.
  • Waite, A. E. (1913). The Book of Ceremonial Magic. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Waite, A. E. (1913). The Secret Doctrine in Israel A Study of the Zohar and Its Connections. London: William Rider & Son Limited.
  • Waite, A. E. (1914). The collected poems of Arthur Edward Waite, in two volumes. London: William Rider & Son Ltd.
  • Waite, A. E. (1916). The Unknown Philosopher The Life of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and the Substance of His Transcendental Doctrine. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Waite, A. E. (1921). A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
  • Waite, A. E. (1922). Saint-Martin: The French Mystic and the Story of Modern Martinism.
  • Waite, A. E. (1924). 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.
  • Waite, A. E. (1925). Emblematic Freemasonry and the Evolution of its Deeper Issues. London: William Rider & Son Limited.
  • Waite, A. E. (1926). The Secret Tradition in Alchemy: Its Development and Records. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Waite, A. E. (1929). The Holy Kabbalah.
  • Waite, A. E. (1933). The Holy Grail, Its Legends and Symbolism. Rider & Co, Ltd.
  • Waite, A. E. (1938). Shadows of Life and Thought: A Retrospective Review in the Form of Memoirs. London: Selwyn and Blount.


  • Jennis, Lucas (1893) [1625]. Musaeum Hermeticum [The Hermetic Museum]. Translated by A. E. Waite. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) Two volumes.
  • Anonymous (1894) [c. 900]. Turba Philosophorum [Assembly of the Philosophers]. Translated by A. E. Waite.
  • Petrus Bonus (1894) [c. 1330-1339]. Margarita Preciosa Novella [New Pearl of Great Price]. Translated by A. E. Waite. James Elliott and Co.
  • Papus (1958). The Tarot of the Bohemians. Translated by A. E. Waite.



Works cited[edit]

  • Anon (n.d.). "Arthur E. Waite". Freemasonry.bcy.ca. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  • Caleb, Amanda Mordavsky, ed. (2007). (Re)creating Science in Nineteenth-century Britain. Cambridge Scholars Pub. ISBN 978-1847182203.
  • Gilbert, R. A. (1986). "The Masonic Career of A. E. Waite". Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. 99. Archived from the original on 5 September 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010 – via MasterMason.com.
  • Gilbert, R. A. (1987). A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts (1st ed.). Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Crucible. ISBN 185274023X.
  • Graham, Sasha (2018). Llewellyn's Complete Book of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot: A Journey Through the History, Meaning, and Use of the World's Most Famous Deck. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 978-0738753195.
  • Howe, Ellic (1972). The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • King, Francis X. (1989). Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism. Prism. ISBN 978-1853270321.
  • Price, Robert M., ed. (1995). The Azathoth Cycle: Tales of the Blind Idiot God. Oakland, California: Chaosium. ISBN 978-1-56882-040-8.
  • Prosser, Lee (6 April 2004). "Arthur Edward Waite". Ghostvillage.com. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  • Stableford, Brian (2009). "Waite, A. E.". The A to Z of Fantasy Literature. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6829-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gilbert, R. A. (1987b). The One Deep Student, a life of Arthur Edward Waite. Wellingborough.

External links[edit]