Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942), born in New York to an American father and English mother, is best known as the Rider-Waite Tarot co-author, published in 1910 with illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith, a member of the Golden Dawn. He was also a poet and the proponent of a systematic study of Western occultism’s history, which he outlined as a true spiritual tradition.
In the early years of his childhood, after his father’s death, he moved to the United Kingdom, where he pursued his studies. In 1874, on his sister Frederika’s death, he
began to take an interest in occult studies, regularly studying the texts kept at the British Museum.
In 1891 he was accepted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1893 he left the Order only to be re-admitted three years later, and where he remained between various trials until 1914.
In 1897 he married Ada Lakeman (also known as “Lucasta”), who was also interested in spiritual practices; they had a daughter, Sybil.
From 1900 to 1909, he worked as a company manager producing malted milk to earn a living.
In 1901 he became a Freemason, and in 1902 he entered the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, a Rosicrucian Christian order. In 1903 he went to Switzerland to receive the rank of Beneficent Knight of the Holy City of the Rectified Scottish Rite. In 1915, after abandoning the Golden Dawn for numerous internal feuds, Waite founded the Company of the Rose Cross, one of the multiple branches formed after the splits within the Golden Dawn itself. He had to endure a lot of criticism for his decision, particularly from Aleister Crowley.
In 1924, shortly after his wife’s death, he remarried Mary Broadbent Schofield, whom we know very little biographical information about.
Waite was a prolific author whose works were well regarded in occult circles of the time. However, his lack of academic qualifications exposed him to some criticism of his prose, described as dispersive, verbose, and full of archaisms. He dealt with divination, esotericism, freemasonry, kabbalah, alchemy and ceremonial magic; he also published a poetic anthology inspired by the fairies of English folklore.
He died in London in 1942 at the age of 84.