26 June 2012

A.E. Waite's Occult Tradition

This is the fourth post in a series about Charles Williams and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. You can access the others via this index

Arthur Edward Waite was a poet-scholar who dedicated his life to acquiring the liturgies of many secret societies. He probably joined more secret societies than any other individual person. His goal was to discover and/or reconstruct a “secret tradition” that he believed was a deeper form of Christianity than that practiced in churches or taught in the Bible. It would provide a higher enlightenment, a true knowledge, a kind of Gnostic (but embodied) path to “real” spirituality. This secret tradition, he thought, had been passed down verbally from one keeper of secrets to another, and had become dispersed among various occult/hermetic traditions, texts, and practices.

It appears that Waite thought he could master this “secret tradition” by learning all the words of all the secret societies. I find this fascinating: that secret spiritual knowledge and power should reside in the combination of just the right words. So he kept collecting the “Rites”—that is, the liturgies, the ceremonial words—of all the societies he joined: Masonic, Rosicrucian, Golden Dawn.... His idea was to sift through these, then write his own ritual, which would be The One Rite that would express/contain/embody/reveal that Secret Tradition (I don't know what the right word is--so I'm obviously no occult Master--or else I hide it well).

As he went along, he also climbed up the power structures of the Orders, especially the Golden Dawn. Around the turn of the Twentieth century, the Order of the Golden Dawn went through a power struggle. This partly had to do with personality clashes, with power plays, and with corruption at the highest levels. But there is also some indication that the Golden Dawn was torn over Waite's emphasis on mysticism vs. Aleister Crowley's and Yeats's and others' insistence on practical magic. R. A. Gilbert, Waite's biographer, wrote that “The two offshoots—the one magical and the other mystical—of the old Golden Dawn continued in uneasy harmony for three years.” (Gilbert 120-121). These differences eventually led to a split.

On the 9th of July, 1915, Waite “consecrated the Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross” (Gilbert 123). Waite's Order was supposed to be Christian and mystical, rather than pagan and magical, and it combined elements from Masonic, kabbalistic, alchemical, and Tarotic tradition in its rituals.

It was Waite's Rosicrucian society that Williams joined in 1917.

Tomorrow: tune in for a summary of Williams's involvement in the F.R.C.!

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