Post Scriptum – A. E. Waite

I had a lot of response to my post on visiting A. E. Waite’s grave and a few people mentioned they would pay a visit themselves. I’m very happy to share that one of them, Suzanne Corbie (www.suzannecorbie.co.uk), not only went there but took the time to clean and tidy his grave. Suzanne kindly sent me an email with pictures and some of her thoughts on, as she put it: “…this small act of remembrance.”

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

With her permission and in her own words:

“The actual grave is covered with a ‘grave curb’ and about two inches of earth mixed with gravel over the marble slab, so after clearing, there was little that could be planted on the grave, except for where a headstone could have been, so I planted red and white roses there (for the male/female, sulphur/mercury alchemical polarities) and left a rider waite card (from my very first deck of tarot cards over 40 years ago) of the Hierophant. He seems to represent that for me anyway; a Magician, prolific author, a lifetimes work of translation and study of mystical and alchemical works as well as his involvement in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.”

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

“Finally, I lit a candle and spent some time there – I have reason to be grateful to Waite – I have a flourishing career as a Tarot Reader and my love of the tarot is in no small part thanks to him and Pixie (Pamela Colman Smith). I then wandered over the benches you mention, where there can be no better place to contemplate the mystery of life and finally I visited the small church to find William Morris tiles behind the altar and a Burne-Jones window of faith, hope and charity – images of which I also enclose. He is in good company then.”

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

(Picture: Suzanne Corbie)

Thank you, Suzanne, for tending his grave and particularly for planting the roses; a most appropriate flower for this Brother of the Rosy Cross.

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“There is only one thing…”

If you take the old Dover Road (now the A2) for about four miles south east of Canterbury and then turn down Frog Lane, a straight road with sheep grazing peacefully either side kept safe by iron wrought fencing, you will reach the tiny village of Bishopsbourne. It is hardly anything more than a row of houses, a pub called The Mermaid and a church dedicated to St. Mary. Walking through the lychgate of the church-yard, with its carved reminder: ‘Ye that would live fear not to die’ and turning right, you will see five unkempt and perhaps forgotten graves, squeezed together and pushed up against an old flint wall.

waite1

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

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(Picture: Blair Cowl)

This middle grave is the last resting place of Arthur Edward Waite, writer, magician, mystic, poet and perhaps most famously the co-creator of the Rider Waite Smith tarot pack. The grave is small and undistinguished. It is overgrown with nettles and grasses; the inscriptions rubbed and fading.

waite3

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

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(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

A casual glance at the wording reveals nothing of Waite’s life or work, except perhaps for the short Latin inscription at the foot: EST UNA SOLA RES – there is only one thing. This refers to Waite’s belief that no matter what tradition, initiation or school of thought is followed they are all of one source and one ultimate truth.

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(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

His daughter, Sybil, had lived in a small cottage at Bishopsbourne, but in the last couple of years of his life they shared a house in Bridge, just over a mile to the north. It seems a quiet and hidden corner for such a prolific author; the village appears to be unaware of his presence and there are certainly no signs to his grave or notices about him or his work; as the author of The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts this is not entirely surprising. He did however spend much of his life writing about and practicing what can only be described as Christian Mysticism (though admittedly with a somewhat unorthodox approach), so maybe this could be more safely celebrated by the villagers. Perhaps they don’t like to make a fuss about such things – Joseph Conrad spent his last years in Bishopsbourne but there isn’t much about that either.

 

waite6

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

waite7

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

waite8

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

Walking past the church to the back of the church-yard you will find two benches, placed in memorium, to take advantage of the pastoral views. It really is a lovely spot and worth visiting if you get the chance.

 

waite9

(Picture: Blair Cowl)

 

For occult authors associated with the Golden Dawn and its descendant Orders, this is really one of only two graves that can be easily visited in England; the other is Dion Fortune’s in Glastonbury.

 

(Robert B. Osten)

(Picture: Robert B. Osten)

 

Dr. William Robert Woodman, one of the co-founders of the order, is buried in Willesden, London but he didn’t publish any books. Dr. William Wynn Westcott and S. L. MacGregor Mathers the other co-founders, died abroad. Westcott in Durban, South Africa, whose grave rather brilliantly states: ‘Supreme Magus of the Rosicrucians of England’ and Mathers in Paris, where his grave may (my emphasis) have recently been discovered as reported on a Golden Dawn blog.

 

westcott

(Picture: Tim Stygall)

 

mathers

(Picture: Jean-Pascal Ruggiu)

 

Israel Regardie was laid to rest in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles.

 

(Picture: Carolyn (Schmidt) Alves)

(Picture: Carolyn (Schmidt) Alves)

 

Fittingly, considering his somewhat chaotic life, Aleister Crowley’s last resting place is not definitely known. His ashes were given to Karl Germer, as instructed in the will, who took them to Hampton, New Jersey, where he and his wife might/might not have scattered/buried them in a wooden box at the foot of a tree in their grounds. In any case, when they moved, the ashes were unrecoverable and the location is now unrecorded.

 

 

 

 

 

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Desire the Fire…

A cursory glance across 17th and 18th Century German esoteric tracts reveals a great fondness for impenetrable diagrams, symbols and to be honest, some quite bonkers looking cosmology. Influenced by the works of their own Heinrich Khunrath and mystic apprentice shoemaker Jakob Böhme ( Jacob Boehme or any other number of versions; his name has as many different spellings as cabala, kabbalah, qab… oh you get the picture) and our own dear Dee and Fludd, pages and pages of imposing and intricate plates attempted to explain the universe in a hermetic, spiritual, Rosicrucian and alchemical manner. Some good examples are diagrams in Von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata (1677-84), the mindbending cosmic geometry of Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum (1735 – from which my header image is taken) and the subject of today’s piece the marvellous Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert (1785-88.) Before anyone gets too excited (have a seat and a glass of water madam) it is not the first edition we will be looking at but the first (partial) English translation: Cosmology and Universal Science…Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians by Franz Hartmann Boston: Occult Publishing Company, 1888:

There in a book - how secret can they be?

They are in a book – how secret can they be?

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Annoying title page alert! Is it Cosmology and Universal Science. Cabala. Alchemy. or Cosmology and Cabala. Universal Science. Alchemy. and why so many full stops?

Annoying title page alert! Is it Cosmology and Universal Science. Cabala. Alchemy. or Cosmology and Cabala. Universal Science. Alchemy. and why so many full stops?

There are 25 full-page hand-coloured plates in this edition filled to the brim with exactly the kind of brain twisting universal view I’ve been talking about:

Are those little trees in the middle?

Are those little trees in the middle?

'The Tree of Life is Hidden in the Vine' - This is excellent news, but may result in me making my very own Figura Cabalistica all over the floor...

‘The Tree of Life is Hidden in the Vine’ – This is excellent news, but may result in me making my very own Figura Cabalistica all over the floor…

The plates are in fact beautiful and in this edition particularly well executed and painted. The original works were the crowning glory of the 18th Century German Rosicrucian movement embodied in the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross ( the Teutonic grandfather of the Golden Dawn). By this time alchemy was being perceived almost wholly as a spiritual rather than practical endeavour ( which is not to say that intrepid adepts were not still blowing themselves up in laboratories or poisoning themselves with mercury) – a sort of ultimate Maslovian Self-Actualization if you will (or won’t) – and a direction discussed in the next century by Ethan Hitchcock, Mary Ann Attwood and A. E. Waite.

This confusingly begins with the 'End and Destruction of Time' and ends with 'Eternity Begininning'

This confusingly begins with the ‘End and Destruction of Time’ and ends with ‘Eternity Beginning’

'...the ABOVE and BELOW; Which is at the same time very near; and yet very far. It may be found everywhere, but not every one is able to find it.'

‘…the ABOVE and BELOW; Which is at the same time very near; and yet very far. It may be found everywhere, but not every one is able to find it.’

Franz Hartmann (1838 – 1912) was a German Theosophist and Occultist, who at one point worked with Blavatsky in India. He wrote a number of books – Magic Black and White probably being his best known and most enduring work – many of which concerned Rosicrucianism. He was also a great believer in the dangers of premature burial being the sort of person who would want to be buried with a piece of string tied around his toe attached to a bell sticking out of the sacred ground to alert the Sexton he was still breathing:

'...discourage embalming, autopsy, burial or cremation in these cases...smothering under snow, earth, grain or in bed...suspended animation from excessive emotion etc.

‘…discourage embalming, autopsy, burial or cremation in these cases…smothering under snow, earth, grain or in bed…suspended animation from excessive emotion etc.

He also wrote a book about Gnomes, but as a proud member of The Horde, the less said about that the better…

In the typical bitchy way of the Occult world, other authors ‘had a go’. Gardner in his Bibliotheca Rosicruciana bibliography (1923 second enlarged edition) is suitably sarcastic: ‘This is the work that F. Hartmann reproduced as a wonderful find in an old monastery, but which was already well known to be in existence.’ I cannot find this reference to a monastery anywhere in Hartmann’s introduction, and perhaps Gardner should have  looked closer to home, for example,  MacGregor Mathers’ (his Golden Dawn boss) translation of The Book of the Sacred Magic without reference to the 1725 edition which apparently no-one had heard of. The Aries Press edition of 1935 also gives Hartmann a hard time about translating only parts 1 and 2, but perhaps he only had access to the first two parts ( all three were separately published over a three-year period.) A quick glance through Worldcat, seems to show only two American Universities have any of the original parts, even today.

hart11

hart13

hart14

hart12

Hartmann was there first – his introduction is a thoughtful overview of Rosicrucian mysticism, the book is beautifully produced (about 43cm tall), printed on watermarked, laid paper with well executed colouring ( to be honest, none of the later editions seem to reproduce the original colouring accurately, but Hartmann has a good go at it)

Storks bring babies; two headed gold and silver eagles bring giant golden crosses...

Storks bring babies; two-headed gold and silver eagles bring giant golden crosses…

I’ll leave the final words to Hartmann:

“Those symbols are easily comprehended by him who finds the key to their understanding within his own heart; but to all those others they will be unintelligible , because they will see merely their external forms and cannot enter their spirit.”

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