I found the Brady Tarot somewhat mysteriously, stumbling across it on Kickstarter very early on in its creation. I made a mental note of the deck, the fact that it shared my name, and decided I would come back to it. The deck resurfaced in my consciousness via an interview on littleredtarot.com a few months later. Hearing Emi talk about her project in greater detail and sensing the passion behind her work immediately led me back to the Kickstarter to pre-order a deck! Almost a year later, I finally received my copy of the Brady Tarot. It was a long process that I got to observe, following the ins and outs of self-publishing a deck and all of the labor involved. My patience was rewarded 100-fold, because the deck that I received has become the most powerful tool that I use in my practice. All of the intention put into the deck bleeds through in every reading, every card pull, every time I merely observe this creation.
Emi created the deck by reaching back to the roots of Tarot. As she explains in her project video, the first mass-produced tarot decks were relief printed. She created each card in her deck with a linocut (a drawing carved into linoleum) that was inked, pressed and then hand colored. She describes herself as "obsessive" in this video which I would say seems right on point. The detail in the imagery goes beyond almost any deck that I've seen, and most of them were not hand-carved. One of my favorite parts of this deck's creation is that Emi used dice rolls to choose the order to illustrate the cards. In echoing the seeming randomness of Tarot pulls, even the making of the deck was aligned with the intentions for its use. I feel these intentions present in every card, but I will let Emi's words describe the full intentions of the deck:
"This deck is a testimony to biodiversity and a call to protect it. It is an invitation to view the brutal and beautiful aspects of reality with equal enthusiasm. It is a tribute to the People who care for and learn from the land of North America and is an attempt to honor the lessons and stories they passed on for millennia. It is a reminder to listen and trust in the process. This is a tool, not a weapon. This is a conversation, not a commandment."
I love those final words. This deck has been both a tool and a conversation that I so badly needed in my life. But since this is a deck review and not a long letter of praise, let me dive into why you too should get this deck and fall in love with it.
First of all, the box and cards are absolutely stunning. The deck comes in a bamboo box engraved with the suits on each side and "The Brady Tarot" on the sliding top. It is a very sturdy box and a bit smaller than many published deck boxes (I'm thinking of the ones from Lewellyn) at 6.75" L x 4.75" W x 2.75" H (17 cm x 12 cm x 7 cm). The cards have a matte finish that makes them feel smooth and inviting and are gilded with gold edges. They are quite thick but are average size at 2.75" x 4.75" ( 7 cm x 12 cm). The one critique I could offer is that shuffling with the full deck is difficult at first because of the card thickness and stiffness. I have large hands so this didn't bother me too much but if you have small hands, you might find handling the deck a little difficult. Of course that's true of many decks and it might not be a problem for you at all.
A few minor changes were made to the language of the cards that I will mention before we dive into the specific sections of the deck. The Majors go with the Golden Dawn order of the cards (Strength as 8 and Justice as 11) and slightly rename card 12 as "The Hanged One" as opposed to "The Hanged Man." This change was made likely because no humans appear in the deck but as a gender non-conforming person, I really appreciate the neutrality and inclusivity that this offers. The Suits of the Minors were also slightly renamed: Feathers (Wands), Horns (Cups), Arrows (Swords), and Roots (Pentacles). The Court Cards were also adapted slightly. Emi went with the now common: Daughter, Son, Mother, Father Court that originated with the Haindl Tarot in the 80s (ironically, Rachel Pollack has written a guidebook for this deck too).
The guidebook that comes with the deck is a masterpiece. Written by the esteemed Rachel Pollack (author of 78° of Wisdom, Tarot Wisdom, and many other books), this guidebook is a deep and nuanced companion to an already amazing deck. The entries read as half descriptions of the creatures and plants appearing in the cards and half interpretations on their meanings. Rachel often references Emi's notes from creating the cards and includes anecdotes from her own life that connect to the various flora and fauna present in the deck. It has become one of my favorite guidebooks to use, even when I feel that I know exactly what the card has to say to me. The combined genius of Emi Brady and Rachel Pollack is far too great a gift to write off and leave to the side.
In her introduction to the Major Arcana of the Brady Tarot, Rachel Pollack uses the word "wilderness." I can't think of a better word for these 22 powerful images. Every card contains a story, a message, an entire wilderness. From the initiatory adoption that occurs in the Fool, to the intense mating dance of the Lovers, the mutated, masturbating, drug-abusing goat in the Devil, and the helix formed from trees in the World, wildness is everywhere. These archetypes are true to nature while remaining true to the long tradition of Tarot. While every card holds a world of power, I want to highlight a select few that consistently stand out to me.
The Hermit is one of the most striking cards in the deck. It appears on the back of the guidebook and was one of the first cards that I saw when I discovered the Kickstarter 2 years ago. Owls are a constant companion of mine so of course I gravitate to this card (Owls are also present in the High Priestess, the Moon, and the World). I love the way that Emi kept the bare bones of the RWS card, the lantern and mountains, while adding the perfect creature to capture this archetype and a large crescent moon. I picture this Barn Owl as a guide to a great hidden library where the wisdom that I need awaits me when it comes in a spread.
The Hierophant is another card that always strikes me when it appears. I have long struggled with this archetype, feeling resistance to its connections to organized religion and rules. I want every card that I pull to be useful to me in some way. Remembering that I was conditioned into a belief system that eliminates my existence rarely felt useful and that was where the Hierophant often left me with other decks. The juxtaposition of Western and Indigenous religious symbols opened my eyes to this card. It is not merely religion and rules, it is the recognition that they all are explanations of the same thing: Existence. Some religions use keys (a symbol of knowledge and mysteries kept hidden) to unlock their faith. Others use the physical world (shown by the 'magic' mushrooms) to reveal truth. Each requires initiation and dedication. Each can misinterpreted and abused. The Hierophant is simply offering us a path to truth in this deck, the way that we choose to pursue that truth is up to us.
I could go on and on about the other Major Arcana cards in this deck. Death shows three levels of skulls reminding us of the cyclical nature of life and dominance. The Sun takes the shape of an atom, a reference to the building blocks of life and the miracle of all existence. Our joy and happiness can emerge from the realization that just being alive is something incredible we should celebrate. If you want to see the full beauty of the Major Arcana all together (and the rest of the deck) click here!
While the Major Arcana revealed a powerful wilderness of archetypes to interact with, the Minor Arcana transport us into the various environments of North America and the many creatures experiencing all the parts of life. The introduction to this section explores the history of the Minor Arcana as attempt to show how the Brady Tarot fits in with tradition. In reality, it is a jumble of many traditions. Emi followed the Crowley model of using thematic titles for the Minors while using more RWS interpretations for the cards. As I mentioned before, she mimicked the Haindl Tarot with the names of the Court Cards (Daughter, Son, Mother, Father) but explores nature in ways beyond Haindl's capabilities. This is one of the most unique Minor Arcana's you will ever come across. It will often feel familiar and mysterious all at once, both drawing you in with what you already know and expanding your understanding once you arrive to work with it.
While the suits were renamed, they still follow the traditional associations. The Feathers (Wands) explore the element of fire and the completion of energies through nature. We see many examples of fighting (especially the 5 and 7) as well as successful hunts (the 2, 6, and 8). To the faint of heart, this suit may seem misaligned with the passion of the traditional Wands, but remember we are in the wilderness. These creatures need to kill to survive and death is only one part of the cycle, not the end. These Gila Monsters are shown fighting in the 5 but as Emi knows (having studied each animal and plant included in great detail), they are not fighting to kill. While both hold the capability to bite with poison and end the other's life, they instead choose to wrestle for hours until one capitulates or a winner is chosen. This embodies the 5 of Feathers (Wands) perfectly. There may be fighting but it is not malicious. Observing how nature enacts these same situations that Tarot has been showing for centuries is an empowering and enlightening practice that I have only ever had by working with the Brady Tarot.
The other suits are just as powerful. The Horns explore the joys, temptations, and experiences of American wildlife with water. We see our creativity, love, and spiritual connection revealed by birds and beasts interacting with the horns in many ways. The Arrows show both the dangers of humanity toward animals (many creatures have been shot or are shot at in the suit) and the struggles of challenges of natural existence. We are reminded that other humans often have powerful impacts on our mental state and that we impact so much of the world around us by our words and actions through this suit. Observing the impact of humanity on the natural world is one part of working with this deck. Learning how to change that in your own life (as you interact with nature and other humans) is the lesson we are meant to take away.
The final suit is my favorite (although it feels weird to say I have a favorite Suit). The Roots (Pentacles) embody everything that I have come to believe about this suit. This is not a suit focused on money, resources, or the material world as much as finding purpose and meaning in the cycles of life. Many of the cards in this Suit have all their action occurring underground. This is a dual symbol of needing to be grounded and stable when doing this work and the fact that much of Root (Pentacle) work is internal and happens below the surface. I've especially fallen in love with the Root Court cards. The Daughter and Son show such pure examples of exploring the world around you with intention and curiosity while the Mother and Father reveal the beauty of appreciating your environment after working to make it all that you desire it to be. Pulling any of these cards is a reminder to observe my surroundings and take in the majesty of Nature. There is no message that I appreciate more from a tarot card than "go out and be in the woods" so you can imagine how excited I am when pulling these cards.
There is so much more to this deck, I have only begun to scratch the surface. The cards alone are powerful tools but when brought together in a spread, they become something more entirely. I have many rituals that I go through when I receive a new deck and one of them is an introduction spread. This spread asks 6 questions, the first being a simple "introduce yourself." The Brady Tarot introduced itself as the Tower. Already this speaks to the deck being intense and powerful but there is more to the story. To add context, I had been pulling the Tower for 3 months before I decided to quit my full time job and begin investing all of my energy into tarot, astrology, and the spiritual world. I received the Brady Tarot about 1 week before my final day at that job and didn't see the Tower again for months. This deck, and the major life change that coincided with it, have truly been Tower moments. Together, they have brought revelation and understanding deeper than I ever could have imagined. I've been pushed to places that have scared me but every time it has worked out to create the best possible outcome. I have no doubt that the wisdom and depth of the Brady Tarot have helped to keep me sane during this transition. It is a deck meant to guide me through change. It truly is "The Tower."
I have many more stories to tell and praises to write about the Brady Tarot but I will spare you for now. Perhaps I'll write about it more in the future. For now, I will tell you that I have the highest of opinions about this deck. I think it has wisdom and messages for everyone. I am always partial to nature based decks but there is truly something special about this one. To get the deck, you can go here. To follow the deck and creator follow @tinybrownbird and @brady.tarot on Instagram. If you want to talk about this deck or listen to more of my starstruck ranting about it, message me on Instagram @earthandfiretarot.