Anyone who has ever been interested in tarot has usually been introduced to the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. In the English speaking world, this is the best selling tarot deck of all time, and remains one of the top selling tarot decks year after year. What few people know about is the man, Arthur Waite, behind this amazing tarot deck.
Arthur Edward Waite (October 2, 1857 – May 19, 1942) was a renowned occultist and mystic of of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was a Christian mystic and author of various occult and masonic writings. He is also attributed as a co-designer of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Waite was one of the first occultists to deeply study the history of western occult and esotericism as a spiritual tradition as opposed to pseudo-sciences and religious perspectives.
Waite, a US citizen, was educated in North London and went to Saint Charles College. After college he became a clerk and wrote poetry while he wasn’t working. When his sister Fredericka Waite died in 1874 he soon became interested in a number of psychical topics thwarting him into research. By the age of twenty one he was a studying various aspects of esotericism and the occult and was often found studying at the British Museum.
At the age thirty he married Ada Lakeman (known as Lucasta), with one daughter they named Sybil Waite. After Ada Lakeman’s death in 1924 he married Mary Broadbent Schofield. Most of his life was occupied in London where he worked closely with various publishing companies, editing the magazine “The Unknown” and joining a plethora of mystical, magical and spiritual orders.
During January of 1891, A.E. Waite was received into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn after meeting E.W. Berridge. He was raised as a Master Mason in 1901 and was initiated into the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia in 1902.
In the same year Waite predicted that there was going to be a schism in the Golden Dawn which inspired him to remove the rituals and replace them with mysticism. In doing so he formed the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn which was broke apart by internal feuding that led Waite to disband the order in 1914. In 1915 he formed the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross which should not be confused with any of the Societas Rosicruciana. During this era there were many offshoots of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waites transmission, associated with less known orders of the era, was continued by the Order of the Stella Matutina of Dr. R.W Felkin, a non-masonic author on Rosicrucian topics.
Waite was a renown author and accepted in many esoteric and academic circles. He wrote extensively on esoteric and occult topics such as Freemasonry, Hermeticism, Ceremonial Magic, Divination, Grail mythos, Cabalism and Alchemy. Some of his works include ‘A Book of Ceremonial Magic’, ‘Devil Worship in France’, ‘The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah’, ‘The Holy Kabalah’ and ‘ An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry’. Some of his edited translations include ‘Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual’ by Eliphas Levi and ‘The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary’ by Karl von Eckartshausen.
One of Waite’s greatest accomplishment’s was the co-creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. It is by far one of the most popular decks in use today in the English speaking milieu. Other names for this deck include; Rider-Waite-Smith Deck, Waite-Smith Deck, Waite-Colman-Smith Deck or simply the Rider Deck. The cards were illustrated Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of A.E. Waite.
A great deal of esoteric symbolism can be found in the simple drawings of the Rider-Waite Deck. While the Rider-Waite deck has many similarities predecessor tarot decks it also represents an evolution away from the earlier form of tarot decks. The ‘Pope’ and ‘Papess’ card become ‘Hierophant’ and ‘High Priestess’ and the Minor Arcana are filled with simple illustrated scenes that also represent a departure of earlier tarot systems. These symbols and illustrations were inspired by the works of the magician and occultist Eliphas Levi.
The cards were originally published in 1909. In 1910 the cards came with a booklet written by Waite called ‘The Key to the Tarot’ and in 1911 a revise version called ‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot’.
The Rider-Waite tarot deck has been so influential that its inspired the development of later tarot decks. The deck has also appeared in many movies such as the James Bond “Live and Let Die”. It also appeared as an animated backdrop in Madonna’s ‘Re-invention World Tour’ for the song “Hollywood”.
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