- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Andrea Kraus' parents gave her a deck of Gypsy Witch fortune telling cards when she was 9. Little did they expect that the game would become a passion, and eventually a part-time job for their daughter.

Ms. Kraus is now 32. She is a computer programmer in Rockville a quick, practical person. Away from the computers, she becomes "Kaerwyn," tarot card reader.

"The theory on the future is that nothing is set in stone," she says. "So much is governed by the decisions we make today."

A reading of the tarot cards, Kaerwyn says, often reveals an existing and recognizable set of circumstances in a person's life, and the cards show possible outcomes or surprises that may come along the way.

The use of tarot cards dates back thousands of years. One theory claims the practice evolved from old Hebrew teachings, while another suggests it comes from early Roman astrologers.

Kaerwyn mostly finds clients through friends and referrals from existing clients.

It's rare that she meets new clients at her home; Kaerwyn likes to meet them in public places like coffee shops, diners or libraries, avoiding homes until she gets to know people.

But recently Kaerwyn invited Samantha Strike, 23, who came to her through a referral, to her home in Rockville. The two found themselves seated across from each other on the fluffy carpet in Kaerwyn's living room, separated by a short coffee table. On it is spread a black velvet coverlet, which Kaerwyn made herself, and the 78-card tarot deck. The deck is old and worn with the use of many hands.

"What you can expect from me is integrity and honesty," says Kaerwyn to begin her reading with Ms. Strike. This is a speech new clients get so that they know what a tarot reading is about, Kaerwyn says.

"The future is always fluid," says Kaerwyn. "Everything follows a path of least resistance … you can choose to change your path as you wish … the obstacles are always changing, but when you know them you can make better decisions."

Ms. Strike nods in acceptance.

Kaerwyn then tells her to think of a question, and to phrase it so that it has a yes or no answer. She explains that the simpler the question or concern, the easier it will be to read the cards. Kaerwyn also warns that the tarot may or may not address that particular concern.

"You can always ask the wisdom of the tarot, but it may not always follow your question, because there are things more important in the universe that you should know," she says.

A brief silence follows while Ms. Strike formulates her question. She then decides not to disclose it to Kaerwyn.

So she takes the cards and begins to shuffle.

Kaerwyn says people shuffle cards in different ways. One time she had a client who threw all 78 cards in the air; it took 20 minutes to put them back together.

Ms. Strike shuffles the cards, and Kaerwyn tells her to split the deck into three piles, put them together again, and hand them to her facing in the direction that she wants them read. This is important because part of the meaning of Tarot cards lays in which way they face.

Kaerwyn takes the cards, briefly closes her eyes. She then spreads 10 cards on the black velvet, pauses for a moment, and turns all the cards face up.

"You just really don't like to be in argument, do you? Now how did you get into that one," she exclaims more to herself than to Ms. Strike.

She does not explain, but tells Ms. Strike about the tarot deck, which is made up of two types of cards, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.

The Minor Arcana is the basis of standard card decks, with the king, queen, ace, and numbers. These cards indicate smaller influences and details, Kaerwyn says.

The Major Arcana's 22 cards are nothing like those in traditional decks. Among them are cards like the Wheel of Fortune, Death, the Lovers, the Falling Tower and Justice. These cards are more powerful, and their wisdom is a lot deeper, says Kaerwyn.

Each card has its own meaning, but all the cards together paint a picture of their own, as do certain cards when they fall close to each other.

As she reads Ms. Strike's cards, it becomes clear that it's a time of restlessness in the young woman's life. She's upon a change, something to do with travel, and also just pondering life in general.

Ms. Strike is a good example of Kaerwyn's typical client, who is normally charged $30 for a reading.

The card reader estimates that 70 percent of her clients are women. Most are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, and most "want to know the path of what they are supposed to do with their lives."

As she reads the tarot for Ms. Strike, Kaerwyn goes back and forth among the cards, telling her client which cards are related to one another and how. At one point she holds an incense stick and uses it to point at a card while she speaks.

Kaerwyn, who also teaches tarot card reading, has worked on creating a mood in the room. The colors are earthy forest green, beige, cold, maroon.

The stereo is on low, and the instrumental music blends with the falling water from Kaerwyn's small indoor fountain and the sounds of a late spring thunderstorm. Two scented candles burn on the table.

With each card, Kaerwyn seems to go faster, to probe deeper into what she thinks the reading is telling her client. Meanwhile, Ms. Strike seems to be going out of her way not to reveal any emotion that might offer clues to the reader. "This is a disjointed little reading," says Kaerwyn. "You need to delve in yourself and claim your power."

She then goes over the cards, briefly summarizing the highlights of the reading.

It's been about 25 minutes since Ms. Strike shuffled the cards, but it doesn't feel that way. Suddenly it seems people in the living room can take a breath. Kaerwyn leaves the room. Ms. Strike is pensive.

Reflecting on the experience, she says that the cards confirmed things she already knew, but that the knowledge helped her reaffirm her thoughts on what to do with her life.

Returning from the kitchen with a soda, Kaerwyn is asked how, after all these years, her parents feel about her work with tarot.

"They don't do this kind of thing," Kaerwyn says. "They respect what I do, but don't condone it because it goes against their religious beliefs."

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