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What Have Spirit Guides got to do with Reiki?

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Dark and mysterious pic of a woman holding a candle, surrounded by candles and the usual paraphernalia of witchcraft and spiritualism.

The following piece is a reworking of an article I wrote for the Winter 2018 issue of Resonance, the UK Reiki Federation magazine. The issue presented here is still very relevant and possibly more so as Reiki makes inroads into other countries with other cultural and religious perspectives.

Recently I checked out a piece in the UK Reiki Federation magazine and noticed mention of something called a Reiki Guide. I’ve come across references to such things before, but if you haven’t, you might think that a Reiki Guide is some sort of manual or book to help you with your practice. It’s not. It’s an invisible spirit helper that is there to guide you in your Reiki practice. Feel free to roll your eyes.

It might be worth going back to basics with this one, to the origins of the system itself.

The genius of Mikao Usui, the founder of the Reiki method, was that in distilling a set of practices and philosophies into what we now know of as Reiki, he created a personal development system that is deeply spiritual in nature, with healing capabilities. The system that he developed was completely secular in every sense. There were no Gods, no ascended masters (disembodied beings of dubious spiritual superiority to normal human beings that pontificate and spread their wisdom to those who can perceive their existence), no angels (beings that exist in the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), no spirit guides (the same as Reiki Guides) and no other, other-dimensional beings of any kind.

That’s how the system was in its early days in Japan before it came to the West.

My Reiki teacher, Gordon Bell once told me that when you are teaching Reiki, in a sense what you are passing on to your students is a pure essence, like a clear glass of water, unpolluted by your own beliefs and religious or spiritual concepts. I hold that concept dear and always endeavour to do just that in my classes. Once you give someone as pure and as clear a spiritual essence as you can, they are then free to add their own flavour to it, whatever that might be. I have taught Christians who added Christianity to it. Muslims who added Islam to it. Buddhists who added Buddhism to it. Pagans who added paganism to it. Even people with no beliefs of any kind who added nothing to it. If that pure essence is, however, already polluted with your own spiritual concepts and beliefs, your students can’t add anything to it. At best, when they try, they end up with an even murkier mixture of spiritual flotsam and jetsam than they had to begin with. This is the road to ruin for the system of Reiki and one of the reasons it is, in some quarters, in such a dire condition now and so often ridiculed. Such a pity when we see how magical the pure system that Usui created was in its early days.

It might not be a popular position to take in today’s Western Reiki Community, soaked as it is in a Judeo-Christian/New Age mythos, but the teaching of Reiki with the concept of Reiki Guides or spirit guides embedded in it is a profound corruption of the pure essence that Usui created. Not only are such beings not a part of the system, but they also have no useful function within it. In fact, when viewed from a certain perspective, their addition to the system can be seen as entirely and profoundly negative.

In the West, there is an acceptance amongst some that Reiki Guides are a part of the system and that it is okay to teach about them in a class. As a personal practice, working with Reiki Guides (or reciting verses from the Bible or the Quran, the Rig Veda or the Heart Sutra, or channeling some other-worldly beings, or using crystals and pendulums and including psychic readings) might be your thing. But it isn’t a part of Usui’s system. There is a difference between your personal practice and orientation to Reiki and what you pass off as being an intrinsic part of Reiki when you teach it to others. One is acceptable, the other is not.

The problem is that the West’s numerous distortions of Usui’s pure essence has slammed the door to exploring the Reiki method in the face of many people outside of the West. The Western-centric worldview is one that needs to be challenged. Not everyone in the world is on board with such concepts as spirit guides and ascended masters etc.

I have been teaching Reiki for many years in different countries. In some of them, like Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, I have found myself having to defend the practice and reassure students because of what they read on the internet about spirit guides in Reiki. I have to make it very clear to them that the system of Reiki has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with spirit guides and that this is a modern New Age Western bolt on to the system.

Black image only showing a hand holding a crucifix.

Spirit guides, in these countries, are not necessarily seen as the benevolent beings that they are generally assumed to be in the West. Certainly, in Egypt, where the majority of my students are Muslim, the idea of spirit guides has sometimes raised genuine fear. Some have conflated these beings with the Muslim conception of the Djinn (also a part of Coptic Christian belief). The Djinn, according to Islamic lore, are responsible for human possession and are shapeshifters. They can influence your dreams and create nightmares. Not all Djinn are bad, however, but like human beings, they can be selfish, manipulative, egotistical, and power-crazed. There is the potential for harm. If the beings that Westerners refer to as spirit guides are not Djinn, then from the Arabian cultural context, it is assumed that this must be a reference to demonic forces of some kind. Again, something that can raise genuine fear. There is no concept within the Arabian, Muslim, or Coptic Christian cultural context of benevolent spirit guides or Reiki guides.

Many people who might benefit from Usui’s pure essence within this context are put off the system by what they read on the internet about spirit guides in the system of Reiki. They feel that this is a practice or belief that is possibly allied to black magic. The West for the most part might have culturally and religiously jettisoned the concept of black magic as medieval superstitious nonsense, but here in Egypt, where I am sat writing this now, the belief in and fear of black magic is very much alive. There is genuine terror here of such a thing. Spirit guides in Reiki fuel this terror.

I am sure, that had Mikao Usui felt it to be beneficial to include spiritual beings into the system of Reiki, he would have done so. He didn’t. As Bronwen and Frans Stiene pointed out in their 2006 article Spirit Guides Within the System of Reiki on their International House of Reiki website, “… the Japanese Reiki techniques that have been passed down (from Usui) contain no direct techniques to teach one to work with Kami or spirit guides. In techniques such as byosen ho and reiji ho the Reiki practitioner is called upon to develop intuitive abilities within herself. Intuition is an internal process that develops over time and, if nurtured correctly, it can become an open doorway to connecting with your inner wisdom.” I am also sure that Mikao Usui would have been horrified and appalled at such corruption of his system that disenfranchises large swathes of humanity. Usui was first and foremost a human being with a big heart that wanted to help all suffering beings everywhere, regardless of the cultural or religious context. He would never have disenfranchised people by the inclusion of beings and concepts within his system that raised genuine terror in them. Reiki is about love, not fear.

The point of Usui’s spiritual system, in common with many Buddhist practices (Usui was himself a Buddhist), was to give the spiritual seeker a set of tools through which they could develop themselves spiritually. Through their own hard work and commitment to the practices, they could begin to realise their own true nature, develop their mind of wisdom and their heart of compassion. There is no part of Usui’s system where you defer responsibility for your spiritual progress to some outside force (whether benevolent or not).

Reiki needs to return to its origins in so many ways if it is to fulfill Usui’s wish to make his system accessible to all without disenfranchising those who don’t want to be associated with other-worldly or other-dimensional beings. Whether these beings are good or bad, is just a matter of cultural perception. It is most definitely not a fact that spirit guides are entirely good. The system doesn’t need them, and they are of no benefit to someone committed to their own inner work.

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