You will probably have heard that Reiki involves the use of symbols in some way. So what are these symbols, where do they come from and what are they used for? Well the Reiki symbols turn up in two important areas of Reiki: they turn up in the ‘attunements’, the connection rituals that a lot of Reiki Masters use to ‘connect’ you to the energy, and they can be used when giving Reiki treatments. Reiki students are taught to use the Reiki symbols (when treating people) on the Second Degree course.
In Western-style Reiki the symbols are seen as an integral part of the system, so it is believed that you can only channel Reiki because you have been attuned to the symbols, the symbols only work for you because you have been ‘attuned’ to them, and the symbols are used routinely when you treat or send distant healing; in fact in Western-style Reiki it is generally believed that a Reiki person can only carry out distant healing, for example, once they have been ‘attuned’ to the ‘distant healing symbol’ on a Second Degree course.
Reiki Symbols and attunements
There is no ‘standard’ way to attune someone to Reiki: it has developed and evolved in many ways in different ‘lineages’ as Reiki has been passed on from one teacher to another in the West since the time of Mrs Takata. So when people refer to an ‘attunement’ they can be thinking of very different rituals. Some attunements are so different – in terms of the way that they are carried out and the way that they are supposed to work – that they are almost contradictory, but all variations seem to work.
One assumes that Mrs Takata – who introduced Reiki to the West – taught all her Masters the same connection ritual, but since then there have been many changes, alterations and add-ons to the rituals used. But no matter what variety of ‘attunement’ is used, they all seem to revolve around putting the symbols ‘into’ the student in some way: into their crown, into their heart, into their hands.
Reiki Symbols and Reiki treatments
Students in the West are taught many different ways of working with the symbols when they treat and send distant healing, so there is no one ‘standard’ way of using the symbols. There is no agreement or consensus about what you should do with the symbols and how they should be used. Some methods are quite simple and other methods are quite complicated, with lots of rules about things that you ‘must’ do and should never do.
There are three Reiki symbols taught on Reiki Second Degree courses, with a further symbol – the Usui Master symbol – taught on Reiki Master courses. Any other symbols that might be taught on Reiki courses have nothing to do with Mikao Usui’s system, and some Reiki lineages pass on several additional symbols which have come from various sources: symbols from other cultures and traditions or ‘channelled’ symbols, for example.
Do we have the original Reiki symbols to look at?
The earliest copies of the Reiki symbols that we seem to have available to us are tracings made of symbols drawn by one of Dr Hayashi’s Master students, a gentleman called Tatsumi. The symbols were published on Rick Rivard’s Reiki Threshold web site, and presumably are similar to the symbols that Dr Hayashi would have taught to Mrs Takata. Below you can see three of the four Reiki symbols, with a little bit of commentary about each symbol and its use.
When Reiki was first taught in the West, you were not allowed to keep ‘hard copies’ of the symbols. You had to commit them to memory, and when you passed them on to your students they had to commit them to memory too, and were not allowed to take home hard copies. Because of this there has been what amounts to ‘Chinese whispers’, with slight variations being passed on to the next generation. These alterations are then amplified as the symbol is passed from Master to student, from Master to student, so there are many different variations of the Reiki symbols in existence in the West, some closer to the originals and some further away. So there are no standard renderings of the symbols in the world of Reiki. Having said this, they still seem to work, though if you have the chance to use a symbol that seems closer to the originals then that is probably a good idea.
Some Revelations about the Symbols
The following information will probably come as quite a surprise to people who were taught standard Western-style “Mrs Takata” Reiki, but, interestingly, the vast majority of Usui Sensei’s students never even got to see a symbol, they were not taught to use them and they were not attuned to symbols by way of connecting them to the energy. Most of Usui’s students used meditations and/or chanted Shinto mantras to learn to become familiar with the different energies or states they were introduced to during their training with Usui Sensei, and symbols did not enter into this process at all.
It seems that the later students – the Imperial officers – approached Usui Sensei because they wanted to be taught a hands-on healing method that could be used in the Imperial navy; they were not as interested in Reiki as a self-healing and spiritual development tool. They needed quick results and their focus was on treating people. So Mikao Usui – together with one of his senior students called Toshihiro Eguchi – introduced symbols for them to use. The symbols were a tool, a visual focus to help the student learn to use or become familiar with a particular energy. The student was not ‘attuned’ to the symbol in the way that we understand in Western Reiki: they were simply given the symbol to use as a focus.
And because Usui Sensei’s system had been up and running long before the symbols were introduced (which was in about 1923), of course the connection ritual that Usui had been using did not involve the use of symbols either.
Information coming from a group of Usui’s surviving students in recent years has really turned the Western view of things on its head, since now we know that:
- Symbols do not need to be used when connecting someone to Reiki. Usui Sensei’s “Reiju empowerments” did not use symbols but they do connect you to the energy.
- You do not need to be attuned to the symbols in order for them to work for you. Once you are connected to the energy – and now we know how to do this without using symbols – then the symbols will focus the energy in a particular way. In fact I believe that once you are connected to the energy then any symbol will frame the energy in a characteristic way or give it a special ‘flavour’ without the need to be ‘attuned’ to that symbol.
And there were more revelations to come, because the way that the symbols tend to be used in the West when carrying out treatments or distant healing bears very little resemblance to the way that the symbols would have been used in Usui’s time.
The “Power” symbol
In ‘Western’ (Mrs Takata inspired) Reiki the first symbol (the spiral) is referred to as a ‘Power’ symbol that you visualise on top of other symbols to ’empower’ them or ‘activate’ them. Some people are taught to always put the power symbol on top of other symbols, or to use complicated symbol ‘sandwiches’, with symbols visualised in different combinations for different purposes. But there are no such connotations of ‘power’ in Usui Sensei’s original system. This symbol simply represents earth ki, the energy of the physical body, the energy of physical reality, and can be used to elicit this fundamental energy within you.
There is also no equivalent of the Western Reiki ‘symbol sandwich’ in the original system that Usui taught. Usui Sensei’s students were taught to keep things simple, so when the Second Degree students were introduced to the energies they would have used them individually, singly, and not jumbled them up together, as is they way the symbols tend to be used in the West.
Please note that the so-called ‘power symbol’ is an anticlockwise spiral. Some people have unfortunately been taught this symbol backwards: with a clockwise spiral. There was only ever one version of this symbol, so people who have been taught the ‘backwards’ symbol should simply start using the correct symbol, with the anticlockwise spiral.
Some Reiki lineages have been affected by the New Age movement, or Pagan practices, where various connotations are associated with clockwise and anticlockwise spirals, but Reiki is a Japanese non-religious self-healing and self-development system and Western esoteric principles do not need to be imposed upon it.
The “Mental Emotional” symbol
The second symbol is called the mental/emotional symbol in Western Reiki and tends to be used when treating the head, heart and solar plexus, which are the centres of thought and emotion. There are many different ways that Western practitioners have been taught to use this symbol, some simple, some complicated, and a few practitioners have been taught that they should hardly ever use this symbol.
In Usui Sensei’s system this symbol was seen as representing heavenly ki, an energy that made a link with the spiritual and brought the two energies – that of earth ki and heavenly ki – into harmony.
Earth ki and heavenly ki are what we are: we are physical reality and we are spiritual essence. In Taoist philosophy, Earth and Heaven – along with Humanity – are known as the “Three Powers”. Humanity is in a pivotal position between the cosmic powers of heaven and the natural forces of earth, covered by heaven above and supported by earth below. Qi Gong, the energy cultivation technique which is practised in Japan as ‘kiko’, allows us to work with these two energies and bring them into balance. Shinto practices also refer to these two basic energies, these two essential aspects of what we really are.
It is not surprising, then, that these two energies are the basis of Usui Sensei’s spiritual system, and latterly his healing system. When we practise Reiki we are working with earth ki and heavenly ki, in a conscious or unconscious fashion; when we channel Reiki, we are channelling either the ki of earth or heaven, because that is what we are.
Incidentally, this symbol is seem commonly in Japan, in temples and on some monuments.
The “Distant Healing” symbol
The third symbol is in the West referred to as a “distant healing symbol”, something that you use to enable you to make a “long-distance” connection with someone so that you can send distant healing to them. Various rituals or sequences are used in different lineages in order to focus your attention on the receiver and send Reiki to them.
This symbol would have been viewed by Usui Sensei’s surviving students as something that elicits ‘oneness’ within the practitioner. Oneness is a state that allows you to transcend time and space, a state of oneness is when you realise that there really is no distance between yourself and the recipient, that distance is illusion, and that there really is no distinction between yourself and the recipient: there is no “you” and there is no “them”.
The majority of Usui Sensei’s students would not have really sent distant healing in the way that we understand in the West, though they would have realised that such a thing would have been easy to carry out. Rather they would have used an ongoing experience of ‘oneness’ as a self-healing and self-development tool.
The symbol itself is made up of five separate Japanese characters (that you could find in a Japanese dictionary). The characters have been overlapped and merged with each other to an extent in order to produce one larger ‘composite’ character.
The use of Reiki symbols on Reiki Evolution courses
On our Reiki Evolution courses we use Usui Sensei’s Reiju empowerments to connect our students to the energy at First Degree and Second Degree levels – no symbols enter into this process. And although we teach our students how to use the Reiki symbols on our Second Degree courses, we explain how our students can work with their energies in a way that echoes the original practices, and demonstrate how to fully experience, to fully assimilate, the various energies. There are no silly ‘symbol sandwiches’ or complicated rules and regulations about symbols on our courses. We show how to use the symbols for self-healing and self-development and we also show how they can be used when treating others, but in a simple and intuitive fashion. Thus we echo Reiki in its original form, within the format of Western-style Reiki courses.
Author: Taggart King