Suggesting a profile of a psychic for a Halloween-related piece seemed like a bright idea until the time came to actually find one. It's not like looking for a painting contractor. You can't ask for recommendations from neighbors or consult Angie's List. Luckily, fate intervened and led me to Madam Kathryn.
The message came in the form of an emailed overdue book notice. Something caused me to browse the library website, where I stumbled upon an advertisement for an upcoming Halloween event that included "psychic readings by Madam Kathryn." Well, if she's good enough for the Lexington Public Library ....
A quick search turned up 19 5-star reviews on the online yellow pages. Words like "amazing" and "unbelievable" were used to describe her psychic and mediumship abilities.
Wouldn't "believable" be more appropriate in this case?
On the phone, Madam Kathryn sounded like a good sport. Of course she'd allow a voice recorder. Most clients record their sessions, she said. Yes, she can dress the part and bring out her crystal ball for the camera.
Several days later I'm outside her house in a neighborhood off Tates Creek Road. The incense in the air is a sign I'm at the right place. Questions keep coming to mind: How long has she been "Madam Kathryn"? Does she ever lose her keys? Is there a future for newspapers?
Madam Kathryn opens the door. No shawl, no turban. Her black lace-up dress is the closest thing she has to a fortune-teller costume, she says.
We sit down; soothing music is playing. She informs me she has a degree in journalism.
On the table between us are several small bags of Tarot cards and a jagged crystal. Crystals help people align their physical selves with the Earth's Schumann resonance, which is always a positive thing, she says.
Looking around the room, I ask if she has any certification as a psychic.
"The best certificate you can get is the satisfaction of your clients," she says.
There is a framed birth certificate hanging on the wall — to prove she exists? — but "Madam" is nowhere on it. Just Kathryn Marie Kauffman.
"'Madam Kathryn' is what the library wanted to use in their advertising," says Kauffman. That's a bit of a letdown.
But why are there birds on the certificate?
"I was born on Midway Island when my dad was stationed there. The island is full of gooney birds."
Born on a remote Pacific island overrun with gooney birds. Did that influence her life's path?
"Absolutely," she says. "It was a very isolated place, so when we got back to the States I didn't relate to people very well." Living people, that is.
But Midway Island was a wide-open classroom for early childhood paranormal education — to wit, Step 6 in WikiHow's entry for How to Develop Psychic Abilities: "Drink in the beauty of natural sounds, like the chirping of birds, the babbling of water." That's all a part of the Schumann resonance, she says.
Kauffman was about 6 years old when her family moved back to Paducah. There she found more encouragement for her "sensitivities."
"This ran in my mom's family. Mom had two sisters who were professional mediums/psychics. Mom had sensitivities, too."
Some mothers teach their daughters to play piano or plant strawberries. Kauffman's taught her to read palms and tea leaves.
"I thought this was stuff all kids did until I went to school. After that I learned what to say and what not to say, to not draw attention to myself."
Her website says she performs "Readings, Home Discernment, Home Cleansings, Addressing Concerns of Paranormal Nature in Multiple Areas, from Hauntings to Banishment of Negative Forces."
It's been her full-time job — about 35 hours a week — for about a year.
"From the time I was a teenager until last year I was always doing it on the side," she says. "People would say, 'Have you heard about Kathryn? You should go to her.' I donated all my time because I was working as a nurse, but after five back injuries lifting bariatric patients I couldn't do that anymore. But I still had that need to help people, so I thought, this is an ability I've had and a lot of people have benefited from it."
You were a nurse? I didn't see that coming.
"For 20 years. I probably worked in every ICU unit at UK," she says.
That probably means you saw a lot of people ...
"I can't tell you how many people I've watched die over that time. I could see family standing in the room, waiting for them to pass."
You mean family members who are ... already dead?
Kauffman nods knowingly. "There's always family there," she says. "Always. ... The presence of the family, friends there waiting on them meant you kind of knew what was coming."
She didn't share this information with co-workers, however.
"Absolutely not. Occasionally I would talk to other family members, you know, 'Did she have a sister who was kind of heavy and wore a gingham dress,' and they would go, 'Yeah, and she died a long time ago.'"
The good news is ...
Meditation is at the heart of her job.
"Your best mediums and psychics will meditate before a reading. What that does is put them in an alpha or theta wave state that's the language of the subconscious."
Before meeting with a client for a mediumship, she meditates for an hour. When she loses her keys, she meditates. "That helps me find them every single time."
The Tarot cards are still lying on the table, between me and the door.
"You want to do a reading?" she asks. I don't want to hear anything disturbing, I say, the skeptic giving way to the scaredy cat.
"When I was a child I was taught psychic ethics," she says. "It's in very bad taste to tell someone information unless that person asks, because your spiritual energy is your last place of privacy. ...I always ask people if they want to know the good and the bad, and some people just want to know the good, and that's fine. ... There are some things I don't divulge, and that's because there are 20 percent of things you can't change, like some predestined deaths, some accidents. If I'm of the mode that I'm trying to help someone, I'm not helping by making them worry about something they can't do anything about, you see."
So does that mean you can't tell me the future of newspapers?
"I'll have to meditate on that one," she says.
Books and the beyond
Back home, I think about what she has told me: how the subconscious mind is hit with thousands more bits of data per second than the conscious mind and how we can become aware of things before we're even aware that we're aware. So maybe my subconscious did direct me to the ad for Madam Kathryn at the library's upcoming Booktacular?
Then I notice a new email. It's another courtesy notice from the library, about an overdue book. The title: Other Voices, Other Rooms. Whose voices? What rooms? I'll have to meditate on this one.