"Born in the U.S.A., his father was an American citizen who died when he was very young. His mother, née Emma Lovell, was English and when widowed returned to this country. A convert to the Roman Catholic Church, she brought up her son and daughter as members of it. They were not well off and Waite was educated first at small private schools in North London and then, from the age of thirteen, at St. Charles's College. When he left school to become a clerk he wrote verse in his spare time; the death of his sister soon afterwards attracted him into psychical research. At twenty-one he began to read regularly in the Library of the British Museum, studying many branches of esotericism.
When almost thirty he married Ada Lakeman ('Lucasta') and they had one daughter; some time after 'Lucasta's' death in 1924 he married Mary Broadbent Schofield (Una Salus). He spent all his life in or near London, being connected with various publishing houses. He edited a small magazine, The Unknown World, but became more and more engrossed in his particular kind of authorship and the research it entailed.
He met MacGregor Mathers at the British Museum (who did not?) but never liked him. However, he and 'Lucasta' were initiated into Isis-Urania at the Mathers's house near the Horniman Museum soon after the marriage of MacGregor and Moina. 'Lucasta' was never enthusiastic and Waite did not attain to the Second Order - Ellic Howe suggests that his disenchantment may have been due to this failure. In Waite's account - Shadows of Life and Thought (1938) - Dr. Berridge urged him to resign; but a year or two later he was persuaded to return by his friend Robert Palmer Thomas.
Waite had always been biased in favour of 'the path of the Mystic' as distinct from that of the Occultist, so he did not see eye to eye with Mathers and never felt at home in the original Golden Dawn ambiance. After the Schism, Isis-Urania was split into the still-loyal Isis-Temple under Dr. Berridge, and the dissident Stella Matutina from which evolved a misty Golden Dawn under Waite himself. About this time Waite was made a Mason - a canny step on his part, since certain personages at Grand Lodge had previously resented his researches.
I have been told by a woman who was a member of his 'Holy Order of the Golden Dawn' for a short period about 1910 that he then lived in Penywern Road, Earl's Court, with his secretary-housekeeper whose motto was, appropriately, Vigilate. (She was Mrs. Rand, ex-Isis-Urania and recognisable by her Order-name.) She looked after him hand, foot and finger; they used to come to lunch about every three weeks with my informant's parents, who lived in Kensington and were both devoted members. Waite was vague in manner; he would say, 'Do I like mustard, Vigilate?' and she would have to tell him. (Presumably their relationship filled some interval of domestic disharmony since his first wife was still living.)
The Order used to foregather in the studio of Mr. H. Collison at 27, Clareville Grove - where, strangely enough, the Quest Society (and Moina's A:.O:. Lodge) were to meet years later. When Rudolf Steiner came to London in 1912, my informant's parents, Collison and about five others left Waite for Anthroposophy in the belief that it had superseded the GD tradition; though some of them later fetched up in Felkin's Merlin Lodge.
Waite's most lasting impact on the GD has proved to be the Tarot pack produced under his direction by an artistic devotee, Pamela Coleman Smith, who drew in the style of Walter Crane: by now it has acquired the period charm of art-nouveau, though its design follows GD instructions as to design with imperfect fidelity.
His autobiographical Shadows of Life and Thought (1938) is not factually reliable, as might be guessed. His publications range in date between The Mysteries of Magic (1885) and The Life of Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (1939). He poured forth an undending stream of books on transcendental subjects, edited the work of others (on similar themes) and persisted with his own verse. This last seems to me all but worthless - the inelegant adjective 'mushy' comes to mind. In almost every issue of The Equinox, Crowley parodied his ponderous and contorted prose without mercy - as in Dead Weight, a mock-obituary. It is difficult for me to assess Waite's scholarship fairly, since his style is so verbose and his contest so evasive that I find it all but impossible to read him. (His titles are always alluring - and usually the best part.) I recognise, however, that the time may be approaching when his leisurely longueurs will seem a welcome relief from speed, and even his pedantic archness may charm.
I remember him lecturing on one occasion to the Quest Society; he was wearing a frock-coat, a high starched collar, and a pale blue tie held with a ring; above these were the off-white of his hair and smooth oval face. I don't recall the title of his discourse but its manner of delivery was so disconnected that its theme might have been The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal, Devil Worship in France, or almost anything else. This was about 1929 and there was current gossip that he had already taken to the bottle.
The following passage is from a humurous post by "King Sword" to the alt.magick newsgroup entitled "Understanding Arthur Edward Waite":
Normal English: "The boy walked to the store and bought a loaf of bread."
Waite: "At some unspecified time and at an equally indeterminate location, it has been alleged by sources we may presume to credit -- at least within the parameters of this discussion -- that a male, suppossedly well under the term of his majority, did (and being so described, we can assume funded for the purpose), make his way via perambulation to a commercial establishment where we are to suppose provisions were to be obtained, and having so arrived, is further said to have purchased for an undisclosed sum a standard measure of baked goods; most probably bread as the term loaf has been suggested in this context but not confirmed -- yet we can, for all practical purposes, concede the probability that the quantity of victuals may not have exceeded this single increment in light of the routine nature of the errand, the lack of auxiliary conveyance implied in the means of transit described, and the restricted pecuniary allotments most commonly assigned to those of such tender years, but to reach any more specific conclusions based on the few facts available would perhaps be imprudent."
|Dissident Orders Deriving from Isis Urania no.3|