I’ve written quite a bit on this site about Reiki from a traditional perspective, and more from an innovative/mutative perspective. Much of it has been transcription of my notes from when I was taught, while other parts have been material shared by others or “channeled”. But all of this material falls short, in my opinion, of actually providing the reader with an understanding of what Reiki really is and how it really works. This essay, then, is my attempt to provide that.
The biggest problem with the existing material about Reiki on this site is that it accepts certain dogmas of Western Reiki tradition. Among those dogmas are the belief that Reiki symbols hold some inherent power, that there were originally many symbols but that the majority of them have been lost and are presently being recovered via channeling, that the Reiki energy is “intelligent, if not brilliant”, that attunement by an existing Reiki Master is required for the use of the Reiki energy, that the Reiki energy “turns on by itself”, and that the Reiki energy cannot be used to cause harm. None of these are things I presently believe regarding Reiki, and the primary reason for that is my understanding of Reiki from a magical perspective.
Let’s start with the idea that an attunement is necessary to use Reiki. Right away, we know that this is false as Mikao Usui was never attuned. Moreover, the system of Reiki which he originally taught did not use any ritual analogous to attunement. The closest he used was something termed Reiju and which was more akin to the “energy blessing” used to close some forms of Western attunement ritual. Reiju was not used to transmit the ability to work with Reiki, it was simply a technique for getting students used to the feel of the energy.
So, with that understanding, what does a Reiki attunement actually do? Three things: first, it introduces students to the feel of the energy, as Reiju did. Second, it connects them with thoughtforms which represent different, established ways in which these energies can be used — typically represented by symbols. Finally, it links the student into the egregore of a particular school or tradition of Reiki.
Moving on to the symbols. It is a tenet of faith for some Reiki practitioners that there was a Reiki system sometime in the past – most frequently I’ve heard mention of Atlantis – that had 300+ symbols in it, and that all of these symbols were lost. Under this theory, Usui recovered a few of the symbols and restarted modern Reiki with those.
All of this is complete bullshit – Usui picked several symbols from existing metaphysical traditions and used them to represent certain aspects of his system. The symbols were not viewed as secret nor sacred, nor as having any inherent power. They were meant to be used as training wheels and discarded once one got used to working with the energy directly.
In reality, Reiki symbols are just images used to visually represent thoughtforms which use the Reiki energy to perform certain tasks. In this, they are no different from the typical use of sigils in chaos magic. This fact is also what allows the names of the Reiki symbols to be effectively used as mantras, and what allows the wide number of variations in Reiki symbols to function – invoking the thoughtform is what matters, not the specific representation. “Channeled” symbols are simply the subconscious hitting on an image to visually represent a particular thoughtform.
Moving on, there is the myth that Reiki can do no harm. I’ve personally seen it cause harm to some people with non-standard energetic systems. But more than that, the very concept makes little sense. A significant portion of the human body is water, yet we are still capable of drowning. Too much light will kill a plant as surely as too little. Even too much oxygen will cause toxicity. There is no substance or energy in nature which is incapable of causing harm in sufficient quantity. Why then should Reiki be different? Indeed, Usui originally spoke of “ki and light” emanating from someone using his method, and ki has long been employed in traditional martial arts to cause harm.
The actual explanation for those practitioners who believe they can do no harm via Reiki is that the egregore or “group-mind” of their particular school of Reiki prevents them from doing so. It is also likely this egregore which at times “turns on” Reiki for less experienced energyworkers without their conscious volition, as this is not a phenomenon reported by Usui in his original manual. Indeed, traditional techniques such as Hatsurei-ho explicitly employ visualization to “turn on” the Reiki energy.
Finally, the idea that Reiki is sentient. This is certainly not found in Usui’s original teachings, or even in the early teachings of Western Reiki under Hawayo Takata. It is something which has been added on to the system in order to explain the dogma that Reiki is incapable of doing harm, a subject which we have already addressed. In reality, the “intelligent” action of Reiki energy can be explained through the intelligence of the egregore of the school of Reiki being employed- such as when the “Laho-chi Master” is asked to heal someone in Imara Reiki and the image of a short, old Chinese man is visualized or perceived.