The other day a Reiki person mentioned to me that when people use symbols in Reiki, it just seems ridiculous that they can unlock all this power, and she was a bit embarrassed by it all. It seemed to her to be a bit like “Open Sesame!” or “abracadabra”: just foolish and ridiculous that flailing your fingers in the air could create all this cosmic power.
And it does seem strange, doesn’t it? A bit like wizards and incantations and ancient, mysterious, closely-guarded, power-imbued sigils that initiates can use to control and direct natural forces, in our case for good.
So, how can symbols unlock such power?
Attunements don’t attune
The word “attunement” is a very unfortunate one to use to describe the initiations that Reiki people go through in order to practise Reiki. The word “attune” suggests that you are being attuned to something and, since symbols are involved in most attunement rituals, it is also natural to assume that you are attuned to those symbols and that it is the process of being attuned to a symbol that allows you to do the Reiki thing.
And for a long time in the world of Reiki, where the only way that you could be initiated was by going through an attunement, and basically all attunement rituals involved the use of symbols, it made perfect sense to believe these things.
But here’s the thing: Mikao Usui didn’t attune anyone to anything. No rituals, no putting a symbol in your aura or your head or your palms, or any of that paraphernalia, and most of his students never even got to see a symbol. And while he would have his students practise initiating others using a ritual, no symbols entered into that process either.[Go here for more Reiki symbol heresies]
Now, you could take the view of one of the UK’s Reiki associations, where their view of Reiki is so narrow that they believe, in effect, that none of Mikao Usui’s students were properly initiated by him and so wouldn’t qualify for membership of their organisation. I don’t think we need to entertain such silliness.
So, where did ‘attunements’ and the use of symbols within them come from?
Enter the Imperial Officers
By the time that Usui Sensei died, the Imperial Officers – Dr Hayashi and his associates – hadn’t trained with him for long enough to have achieved the sort of level of development where they could have initiated people using intent only.
They had already been taught a variant of Usui’s system that used symbols (because they had approached Usui wanting to be taught a hands-on healing system to use in the Japanese military, whereas Usui was teaching a spiritual/self-development system to the other students) and after Usui’s death they created an initiation ritual that gave them the same sort of energetic experience that they noticed when they were ’empowered’ by Usui.
That constructed ritual used the symbols that they had been taught by Usui, symbols that represented earth ki, heavenly ki and a state of oneness. So Reiki attunements started with, and were invented by, the Imperial Officers.
That ritual passed via Dr Hayashi (who may have altered it) to Mrs Takata, she passed it on to her students, and then the ritual has mutated and altered endlessly as it has been passed from one teacher to another in different lineages, with bits added, bits taken away and parts embellished or simplified. I have seen no mention of Mrs Takata talking about a person having to be ‘attuned’ to a symbol as part of the initiation, nor that one needed to have been attuned to a symbol for it to work for you.
But in any case, from Japan about 20 years ago came details of a ritual that Usui had his trainee Masters use to initiate people into the system. It’s called Reiju, it doesn’t use any symbols, and when that ritual has been used then the recipient can use the Reiki symbols – or any other symbol – to direct and focus the energy.
“Attuning” someone to a symbol is not a necessary step in initiating them into Reiki and does not have to be done to enable a Reiki person to use the Reiki symbols.
So, where does the power of the symbols come from?
It’s all about focus
I don’t know whether you have ever tried this exercise, but if you were to sit at the head of a treatment table and rest your hands on either side of a client’s head, obviously they would most likely feel something happening: usually a sense of heat from your hands, passing into their cheeks or temple. But if you imagine that you have additional pairs of hands cupping behind the person’s head and hovering over the front of their face/forehead, the recipient will usually experience a very different sensation, where the heat increases and envelops their whole head.
If instead you had imagined the extra hands holding onto that person’s ankle, say, then they are likely to experience heat or pressure or some sort of sensation in their foot or lower leg.
What’s going on here?
Well, you are focusing your attention in a particular way and the energy is following your focus and focusing itself where your attention is directed. Where thought goes, energy flows. A gentle but definite, undistracted and mindful focus = increased energy flow.
What’s that got to do with symbols? Well…
Symbols frame your focus
The Reiki symbols are a graphical representation of one aspect of the energy. They provide a visual stimulus that you focus on and which allow you to rest your attention on that aspect of the energy, for example earth ki or heavenly ki.
And just like when you rest your attention on someone’s ankle, and the energy flowed there strongly, when you focus on a symbol you are narrowing the focus of the energy, a bit like focusing a magnifying glass, and things get intense.
If you visit my resources page about Reiki symbols – Focus on the Reiki symbols – you can read more blogs about these issues and discover how any symbol can focus the energy strongly; you can even find out how to create your own, bespoke symbols, to use on yourself and your clients
And if you visit my “Energopsychograms” pages, you can practise experiencing energies derived from abstract drawings too.
You can focus in different ways
Once you are connected to the energy, and now we know how to do that without you having to be “attuned” to a symbol (whatever that means!), there are a whole range of different methods you can use to focus on various aspects of the energy.
Above we spoke about using symbols, bespoke/intuited symbols and other visual images. You can experience the energies of other Reiki systems that use different symbols, without you having to be ‘attuned’ to those symbols. So, for example, my Five Element Reiki system uses five symbols to represent the energies of earth, metal, water, wood and fire.
No-one needs to be attuned to these symbols to use them: you just need to be ‘connected’ to Reiki, and away you go.
In the original system that Usui Sensei taught, most of his students did not see or use symbols. Many were given kotodama – Shinto mantras – to experience different aspects of the energy. They were not “attuned” to these sounds: they just used them as an aid to focus.
The sounds represent different aspects of the energy, you use them, and you elicit a particular energy.
It’s the same with symbols. They represent an aspect of the energy. You focus your attention on them. You elicit that energy.
It’s that simple.
So I agree with the lady who thought it seemed quite nonsensical to imagine that waving your hands about in the air gave you a key to unleash powerful energetic forces. That is ridiculous. When we practise Reiki it’s not about “Open Sesame!” or “acracadabra”. It’s not about learning special, sacred, secret symbols that turn you into some New Age version of Dr Strange from Marvel Comics. We are initiated into a simple and powerful energy healing system that anyone can do, which is based on carrying out meditations and simple energy exercises, it has a long history in Japanese esoteric practices and the symbols are just a useful tool that we can use to aid focus.
Symbols do not bestow mighty cosmic power on us; to think otherwise is fantasy.
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Picture credit: Miriam Espacio