Beth Anderson was introduced to Reiki in 2004, while attending college. Handling the stress and pressures of university life was challenging, and she started experiencing acute stomach pain. Medication and advice from several doctors didn’t help, and a nun in her parish who was the parish nurse, suggested trying Reiki. A devout Catholic, Anderson was skeptical at first, but when her stomach pain got worse she finally agreed to a Reiki session given by a nun. Soon she was going to sessions on a regular basis.
“I learned how to experience deep relaxation,” Anderson said, “which in turn helped me to be more open in prayer and bring all my pain to God. After a few sessions, I felt calmer and had fewer stomach problems. I kept looking forward to the next session.”
Anderson is not alone in turning to Reiki (pronounced RAY-key) for relief from health problems. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, more than 1.2 million adults in the U.S. had used an energy healing therapy, such as Reiki, in the previous year. What is perhaps surprising is that a growing number of Reiki practitioners and clients are Catholics.
What is Reiki?
According to William Rand, founder and president of the International Center for Reiki Training, Reiki is “a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing” (Reiki, The Healing Touch; First and Second Degree Manual, pg. I-1).
It was developed in Japan in the late nineteenth century by Mikao Usui and brought to the West in 1937. Reiki is administered through the hands of a trained Reiki practitioner, with the client lying fully clothed on a massage table. A session usually lasts 45 to 90 minutes. The Reiki practitioner places his or her hands at locations around the head, shoulders, abdomen, legs, and feet, lightly touching or slightly away from the body.
At first, Anderson considered Reiki beneficial. The way it was presented to her resonated with her understanding of healing by the Holy Spirit. She learned that it is possible to treat yourself with Reiki and decided, with the encouragement of her practitioner, to receive training to be a Reiki practitioner herself. She signed up for a training workshop and started to learn more about the theories and practices behind it.
How does it ‘work’?
How exactly do Reiki’s proponents explain its ability to promote healing? William Rand explains in his manual, Reiki: The Healing Touch (the standard resource for many Reiki practitioners) that Rei is the all-knowing God-Consciousness and Ki is life energy, which animates all living things. According to Rand, the free and balanced flow of Ki is the cause of health. Blocks, or disruptions in the flow of Ki, are the main cause of illness:
When a person receives a Reiki treatment, the Rei or God-conscious part of the energy assesses where the person has blocks, and then directs the healing energy, usually to the block that is nearest (the practitioner’s) hands. The Reiki energy then works with the negative thoughts and feelings that are blocking one’s natural flow of Ki and heals them (p. I-5).
Rand also presents a healing guide that lists a range of illnesses and conditions:
In its long history of use it has aided in healing virtually every known illness and injury including serious problems like multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer, as well as skin problems, cuts, bruises, broken bones, headaches, colds, flu, sore throat, sunburn, fatigue, insomnia and impotence (p. I-7).
Anderson’s first training workshop included an “attunement.” Reiki is not taught in a traditional way in which a teacher instructs a student but is “transferred” to the student by a Reiki master by means of an attunement. During the process, the Rei or God-Consciousness purportedly makes adjustments to the student’s energy pathways to accommodate the ability to channel Reiki, then links the student to the Reiki source. The Reiki master does not direct the process but is simply a channel for the attunement energy flowing from the Higher Power.
Anderson recalls feeling a little strange about her attunement.
“I was asked to sit in a chair and there was a little ceremony to ‘open me up’ to the Reiki energy,” she recalled. “There was clapping and ringing of bells over me. It felt a little like a sacrament. But remember, these were nuns leading the workshop, so I figured it must be okay.”
As explained in Reiki: The Healing Touch, once you have received a Reiki attunement, you will have Reiki flowing through you for the remainder of your life.
After the attunement, all that is necessary for practitioners to use Reiki is to place their hands on the ‘person to be healed’ with the intention of healing. The Reiki energies will begin flowing automatically. Reiki has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to go and what to do. It is not necessary to direct the Reiki. It will communicate with the client’s Higher Self and use this information to decide where to go and what to do (p. I-3).
After attaining first- and second-degree Reiki levels, Anderson took part in further workshops and became a Reiki master. Besides treating herself, she started offering free Reiki sessions to friends and family members, and sometimes to others for a small fee. In the second degree and master levels of Reiki, she learned about using Reiki “symbols” and the “mantras” or words that accompany them. Many of the symbols are made from Japanese kanji characters.
Rand explains that when a Reiki practitioner uses a Reiki symbol, “the Rei or God-Consciousness responds by changing the way the Reiki energy functions. This process operates under a divine covenant or sacred agreement between God and those who have Second Degree Reiki” (p. I-5). He describes Reiki symbols as “keys that open doors to higher levels of awareness and manifestation” (p. I-6)
To “activate” a Reiki symbol, the practitioner draws the symbol in the air, or says its name, or simply visualizes it. The claim is that these symbols can increase the healing power of Reiki, clear a room of negative energy, protect oneself (or loved ones or one’s car, home or other valuables), eliminate unwanted habits, facilitate exorcism or spirit release work, send Reiki to others at a distance (even to the other side of the world), or send Reiki energy into the future or past.
Initially, Anderson simply wanted to become more relaxed and calm, to be closer to God and to help others. But as she advanced in Reiki training, some of the things she learned made her uneasy.
“Without knowing it, I began to ‘filter out’ things that I didn’t feel good about or that I didn’t believe,” she said. “I thought of myself as strong in my faith and able to handle all this in my own way, including keeping my spiritual director at the time (a priest) apprised of everything I was doing and experiencing. But as people approached me to teach them Reiki level one, I started to worry that it might not be good for my friends and family to enter into, because they wouldn’t be able to handle the parts I could so easily filter out. And then I thought—what makes me think this is okay for me but not for others?”
Anderson started to receive the International Center for Reiki Training’s Reiki News Magazine, which had articles on many other ways to use Reiki, such as treating animals; enhancing the nutritional qualities of food; filling crystals and stones with Reiki and using them to carry Reiki energy; sending Reiki into trees to help them achieve better harmony with the environment; and using Reiki energy to heal the planet, prevent famines, and restore ecological disasters.
There was one article in the magazine that Anderson found especially disturbing. Written by William Rand, it describes “Reikiman”:
And so at this sacred moment in the unfolding of the Reiki energy, this advanced manifestation of healing power has been hovering just beyond the tangible world, waiting for the right moment when the necessary numbers of those who are true to the meaning and purpose of Reiki to exist so it can make itself known. We now find that conditions are right. The material embodiment of what previously had been an unseen spiritual energy is upon us. The emergence of Reikiman is an event whose time has come (“The Emergence of Reikiman,” Reiki News Magazine, Winter 2007, pp. 40—41).
Many of the aspects of Reiki that she was encountering made Anderson feel increasingly uncomfortable, but then something happened that she called the “breaking point.”
“I was told by another Reiki master that I should do a ‘past life regression,’” she said. “I had always been dead-set against doing that, but then somehow I got to a place of temptation where I almost did it, and that scared me.”
Past life regressions involve going back in your subconscious to one of your ‘past lives’ in order to learn something that will help solve a problem you are having now. The underlying premise is that we have lived other lives in a previous time and another place.
“I knew that was not compatible with my faith,” Anderson said, “and I suddenly could see how practicing Reiki had led me into things I never thought I would get into. The fruits of the Reiki treatment—relaxation—were not worth the moral turmoil I was going through.”
At the same time, a growing number of priests were becoming concerned with the spread of Reiki practice in their parishes. In the spring of 2008, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued a document titled “Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy” in response to a request from bishops who were noticing that Catholic retreat centers and health care facilities in their dioceses were offering Reiki workshops and sessions. (The document is viewable as a PDF at usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications.)
The bishops’ guidelines state that Reiki lacks scientific credibility and has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy. They also note that “Reiki is frequently described as a ‘spiritual’ kind of healing” but assert that there is a radical difference between Reiki therapy and the healing by divine power in which Christians believe: “Nevertheless, for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique that is passed down from the ‘Reiki Master’ to the pupil” (8).
The guidelines warn that there are serious dangers in using Reiki for one’s spiritual health:
To use Reiki one would have to accept at least in an implicit way central elements of the worldview that undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong neither to Christian faith nor to natural science. Without justification either from Christian faith or natural science, however, a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man’s-land that is neither faith nor science (11).
They point to the example of forms of Reiki that teach of a need to appeal for the assistance of angelic beings, or Reiki spirit guides, and suggest that “this introduces the further danger of exposure to malevolent forces or powers” (11 [footnote]). Anderson saw this when her Reiki teachers introduced her to a divination tool called “Angel Cards” and to a special spirit guide named Richard.
The bishops’ conclusion: “[S]ince Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy” (12).
The publication of the guidelines prompted many rebuttals from Reiki practitioners, especially Christian ones, who argued that healing by a “laying on of hands” was practiced by Jesus and his followers. Rand wrote in an online article entitled “Similarities between the Healing of Jesus and Reiki” that “Jesus could pass the power to heal on to others, which is similar to the Reiki attunement process” (reiki.org/reikinews/reikin15.html).
Anderson found the bishops’ guidelines to be both wise and helpful and now feels that her Reiki experiences were a distraction from her growth in a truly Christ-centered life. She warns that much of Reiki practice is subtle and alluring, and, while it is easy to get drawn in, “it’s not that easy to get it out of your system.” She suggests there are many other less harmful—and less questionable—ways to learn how to relax and deal with stress.
Anderson is certain that many of the things she was led to believe about Reiki are spiritually dangerous and not in harmony with the Catholic faith. She has a message for anyone who might be considering or reconsidering their involvement in Reiki: “My advice is to rely on Christ alone—we don’t need anything else. Put your focus on things that will deepen and put right your relationship with Him. The sacraments of the Church are a great start. His grace is enough for us, no matter what we’re going through.”
Editor’s note: Beth Anderson is a pseudonym. The subject is a novice in a religious order and requested anonymity because of concerns about the order’s privacy and the jeopardizing of her future ministry.