Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Biography of A. E. Waite

Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) British scholar and historian of occultism and mysticism was born on October 2, 1857, in Brooklyn, New York, and brought to London, England, by his family when he was an infant. He was educated in Roman Catholic schools. Waite's personal friends eventually included Arthur Machen and Ralph Shirley. He also met William Butler Yeats, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Rudolf Steiner, Wynn Westcott, Algernon Blackwood, and Aleister Crowley.

Waite also became a Freemason and an authority on Masonic writings. He was responsible for the first British publication of many important occult and mystical texts. He translated and publicized the writings of occultist Éliphas Lévi (Alphonse Louis Constant).

In 1891 Waite joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but quit in less than a year believing his time was better spent studying and translating alchemical texts. He developed a negative attitude toward all magical ritual and believed that rituals differed primarily in the amount of black magic they contained.

Waite became a devoted mystic and in the wake of the collapse of the Golden Dawn in 1915, he founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He believed that suitably constructed rituals, which he endeavored to write, that had a dramatic form but were of a religious (devotional) rather than magical (manipulative) format, could assist the mystical quest.

Waite was involved in the transition from the first to the second generation of the occult revival. He was a productive occult writer and produced some historical texts and translations. Because he critiqued the magical endeavor, he was disliked and denegrated by occultists, and orthodox mystics distrusted him because of his association with the occult.

Through the twentieth century, Waite was known for his work with Pamela Coleman-Smith in the production of a deck of tarot cards (the Waite deck) and his commentary on the tarot, The Key to the Tarot (1910). Both the deck and the book remain popular in spite of the numerous new divinatory tarot decks that have been produced in the late twentieth century as expressions of the Wiccan and New Age movements. Waite died May 19, 1942.

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