Is Reiki just pyramid selling?

Reiki is the Japanese art of spiritual healing, said to activate the body’s natural capacity for healing – body, mind and spirit.  Although it is used for healing and there are reports of miraculous cures, most people use Reiki as a spiritual path, a form of self-healing which they practice every day, akin to meditation.  It is a gentle practice – practitioners don’t diagnose and they don’t make extravagant claims. However many who learn Reiki say their lives are transformed, that the energy prompts changes –  physical, emotional, and spiritual.  They feel clearer, more focused, more at peace with themselves.   It all sounds quite blissful.   However in recent years there has been rumblings of dismay in Paradise.

It seems that Reiki, from being a small, gentle, spiritual practice is becoming Big Economic Business.  Hoards of adverts in natural health and New Age magazines invite people to become “initiated” in Reiki, paying several hundred pounds for each “attunement”.  In the past Reiki was taught carefully to anyone who expressed an interest.  They could learn more advanced methods, such as absent healing and how to train other people, only after long periods of practice and apprenticeships proved their readiness.  Now, in many cases, Reiki students are being “processed” in a swift series of expensive courses. Reiki seems to have become little more than a spiritual pyramid selling scheme.  You learn Reiki, train as a  “Master” and then you too can train people and turn them into Masters.  And so it goes on.  Where once there were barely fifty Reiki masters in the UK, now there are over a thousand – some of whom skipped the traditional years of apprenticeship and did the whole process in a couple of hours.

Equally, from being a very simple system,  Reiki has transmogrified into all manner of strange hybrids.  There is now “Tibetan” Reiki,  “Kahuna” Reiki; Reiki with crystals, Reiki with channeling; Reiki with shamanism; Reiki with Wicca.  You can even ask for Reiki distant healing by tapping in your details on the Internet.  Students are told they can be “initiated” and made into Reiki “masters” (able to initiate people themselves) within a matter of days (sometimes hours) providing they pay the cash.  It all seems a long way from the simple dedication of the early Reiki.

Reiki masters of the old school are deeply concerned. ‘The quest for money, sensationalism and egotism has got into Reiki,’ says practitioner Joan Goddard. ‘And it’s sad.  Reiki is a wonderful tool and a gift to share with others.  There are some genuine, responsible Reiki practitioners and unfortunately there are also some who are only there for the money, the phenomena and the sensationalism.  I feel sad when something so simple and so wonderful is being corrupted by an unscrupulous few.’

Mari Hall has been a Reiki master for thirteen years and is the author of Practical Reiki (Thorsons).  ‘Yes, there are those who are involved in Reiki that have made it like pyramid selling,” she comments, “those who have the cash can be Masters.  I believe the trouble has risen because, in order to get students, people have felt that they have to “market the product”.  I went to the Mind Body Spirit show recently and was saddened by the Reiki I saw.  I had no idea how it has been commercialised and changed.  I do not understand how you can improve on such a beautiful system.’

Paul Dennis of the Reiki Alliance, a well-established group which seeks to promote ethical, “pure” Reiki, says we are now seeing what he calls “McDonald’s Reiki” – a consumer-led “product” which caters for the prevailing attitude.  ‘People want things quickly, instantly,’ he says. ‘In recent years there has been a bandwagon of people offering just that.  It started in America and is now everywhere.’

He is not concerned that people will be harmed by Reiki treatments, ‘You can’t really harm someone just by putting your hands on them,’ he comments.  But he is worried that people could be harmed by being initiated too fast.   ‘I have heard of people receiving three levels of initiation all at once and they haven’t felt right for several months,’ he comments.  He also feels that the new breed of Reiki combined with shamanism, Wicca, channelling (getting in touch with spiritual beings) and so forth, can lead to psychological danger.  ‘You can do harm to people when you play around with psychic phenomena that you’re not trained to handle,’ he says, ‘That’s when the danger emerges.’

The problem seems to lie in the very language of Reiki.  With its talk of mystical secret symbols and initiations ; with the possibility of becoming a “Master”,  Reiki is bound to appeal to ego-centric people, keen to cultivate an aura of mystique and to pretend they have spiritual “power”.  It’s a shame because Reiki, in its pure and simple form, is a very lovely therapy.  I suggested to Paul Dennis that maybe Reiki should have been left as a therapy and not touted as a spiritual path; that if people weren’t offered all the “initiations”, the process wouldn’t go to their heads.   However he insists that, at its heart, Reiki is the ultimate self-help system.  ‘In Oxfam parlance, it’s the difference between giving someone a fish and teaching them to fish for themselves,’ he says.

He  insists that the true Reiki is still there, for those prepared to give the time and effort for it.  Those that do will undoubtedly find great benefits.  Although Reiki is unpredictable in its results, it can have remarkable healing and balancing effects.  Indeed increasing numbers of doctors are referring their most difficult patients to Reiki practitioners and many doctors are, themselves, learning the technique.  ‘We are not diagnostic and we would always advise people to see their doctors as well,’ says Paul Dennis. ‘So we aren’t threatening to the medical profession.  In fact many find us a wonderful place to send their most impossible patients.’

The message seems to be that Reiki still promises great benefits – providing you find the right person to practice or teach.  It is not a quick fix or a “get rich quick” scheme but a simple spiritual practice.  Let’s hope it manages to regain its simplicity in an increasingly material world.


Reiki was ‘discovered’ by a devout Japanese Christian teacher, Mikao Usui, around the turn of the last century.  Two pupils challenged him to heal, pointing out that Christ had healed and that Christ had also said ‘What I can do, you can do’.  With implacable logic, they asked him, as a believer, to show them how to heal.  Usui couldn’t and, remarkably, commenced a fourteen year quest for the secret of physical healing.  Eventually, meditating on a mountain, he was shown a vision of symbols which could be used for healing.  The story sounds like nothing more than a fable but Usui went on to perform incredible feats of healing.  He worked tirelessly amongst the poor, healing beggars, and then finally began to train others.

The physical part of the Reiki system is very simple.  Consisting of twenty ‘holds’ (practitioners gently holds their hands on the clothed body in specific places), it can be learned in a weekend.  There is no training in anatomy or physiology.  The key lies in the spiritual symbols which are ‘transmitted’ to the trainee healer.  These symbols apparently allow the healing force to flow through.  When someone first uses Reiki they are not told the sacred symbols:  the Reiki Master simply transmits the symbols to the fledgling practitioner, thus ‘attuning’ him or her to the Reiki energy.

The next level of Reiki explains the symbols to the practitioners so they actively imagine them while performing Reiki.  At this stage, it is said, distant healing can be performed.  Usually someone will practice Reiki for at least two years on a daily basis before being considered ready to train as a Reiki Master, someone who can, in turn, initiate others to the path.

Reiki practitioners do not diagnose and do not promise cures.  In fact they say that the Reiki energy can be most unpredictable – someone might come in with a headache and leave with the headache still there, but they will find a long-held phobia might have vanished.  So it’s surprising that the few studies that have been carried out on Reiki have shown surprisingly clear results.  One experiment on injured rats showed that rats ‘healed’ with Reiki recovered in four days compared to the ten days it took for the control groups which were either left to their own devices or picked up and stroked by lab staff on a daily basis.  Another showed that plants could be ‘healed’ with Reiki touch.  On a more anecdotal level there are tales of cuts simply disappearing; of asthma and eczema clearing almost overnight; of cancer going into remission.  In Holland it is used quite frequently in hospices, especially for people with cancer:  most still die but apparently they die with less pain and a far greater acceptance.

Find out more and find practitioners at:

My verdict?  I have had great Reiki but equally I have had sessions at the end of which I thought, ‘well what was all that about?’  I would suggest you ask how long your practitioner has been practicing and how long it took them to reach their present level.  I would also be suspicious of anyone who charges a large amount of money for Reiki.  Most of the ‘true’ practitioners will ask for a donation or what you can afford.

What do YOU think?  Have you had Reiki?  Are you a Reiki practitioner or master?  Do share your thoughts here…..


Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash


  1. As in all walks of life when money comes into it things can tend to
    become very commercialised and  sadly this seems to have happened
    in the world of Reiki.
    Browsing the internet one can find many websites offering “Absent
    Healing or Distant Healing” some are free but many are charging for
    this service and in some cases prices are almost as high as a one to
    one “hands on” treatment. However there are still many offers of  free distant healing  – always
    worth a try as you have nothing to pay and maybe something to gain.
    Additionally one can also find “distant attunements” being offered and
    certificates sent by email or downloaded from the website … maybe OK
    if you just want a certificate but I would think it would be difficult
    to obtain insurance if you wish to open or start a practice. I have an
    open mind on this as I believe distant attunements to be possible but
    again unfotunately it leaves it wide open to abuse. Online courses are
    abundant and again in some cases prices are as high as attendiong a
    local Reiki class/course.
    My main concern with distant attunements is not whether they work (as I
    believe they will) but rather a question of ethics as the person being
    attuned will most likely be unknown to the Master carrying the
    attunement. Yes they may have received a course by email or whatever
    but there is no way of knowing if they even looked at it or
    understood  what it was all about. At least in a class one gets to
    do some practice and get what I would call “the feel” for Reiki but
    this is highly unlikely with an internet course.
    I guess this will be an ongoing concern for several in the Reiki
    community but  in the end as we well know Money Rules …pyramid selling will continue.

  2. Many thanks, Jane, for investigating – and debunking – this topic. Confess to having been very confused … up ’till now!

  3. Thank you so much for your comment, KPB – great to have feedback from someone in the Reiki world.

    Huge thanks for your comment, Phidelm.

  4. Thank you exmoorjane  & I think I know the
    It was good to read your article and I came across it at a time when I
    felt like airing my views.
    We offer Free distant healing and
    it may be just me but I can’t understand why anyone would need to
    charge for it. It’s not so bad saying you can make a donation but when
    I see ads for $15/session  …wow
    Anyway just started my own blog
    after a lot of deliberation so we’ll see how that goes.
    Best wishes�

  5. Good luck with the blog, kpb, will certainly check it out.
    Out of interest, how long did it take you to complete your Reiki training?

  6. I have had one session more as a tester/demonstration for others than a real lengthy ‘work out’. It was very interesting and did wonders for a stressed and painful shoulder – that I hadn’t told her about. I haven’t had any more though.
    It’s interesting how we value things, is ‘free’ better or worse than expensive. Do you donate as much as you can afford or as much as you think it worth?
    I do get worried when I see things like this where it seems that people have jumped on a band wagon and are trying to make a quick buck. Having read this and in view of my own singular experience I would go back but only once I had discovered the practitioners credentials and the length of time they had been practising. Thanks for highlighting the potential dangers.

  7. Pleased you enjoyed your ‘one session more as a tester/demonstration’.
    Reiki (and in fact most healing therapies)can do wonderful things and is great for helping people to relax.
    I don’t believe that free is any better or worse than something we pay for. Funny though that we always seem to think along the lines’you get what you pay for’ and from my experience this is not always true.
    Oh yes quite often what you get for free is useless/rubbish but then again I have paid for things and been very disappointed.
    If you think about it most people don’t spend on their own health .. they spend hundreds of pounds on their car and get it serviced regularly but never think of doing the same for themselves.
    Regarding do you donate as much as you can afford or as much as you think it’s worth is obviously up to the individual. Personally I would give what I could afford taking into consideration how much it would have cost had it been a session I had to pay for.
    However if I saw something as free then I would assume that free meant exactly that.
    We carry out Free distant treatment and they are free .. we wouldn’t dream of asking for a donation.
    Please keep me up to date with any future sessions you may have as I would be interested in the outcome.

  8. I know many therapists feel that there needs to be an ‘energy exchange’ and that it is good for people to give something. I think most people feel comfortable if they can put something in a pot. I know I do. Though I can also totally understand some healers who feel it’s a godgiven thing and should be passed on freely and generously. I love that too. What I don’t like is healers charging an absolute fortune. Actually I’m not really talking about reiki here – more a fair few ‘psychic healers’ who really do charge big BIG bucks (and I’m talking £75/$100 plus!).

  9. Thanks for commenting Kate….and interesting about your shoulder. I should point out that I don’t think reiki is ‘dangerous’ at all – even ‘bad’ reiki (if you like!) – it’s not like bad acupuncture or bad osteopathy. I just don’t like the cheapening of something that, when done well, is really very fabulous.

  10. Great article Jane. I was attuned to Reiki I by Jane Raworth (who is listed on the She was very sad about the ‘pyramid’ selling of reiki. I can’t see how anyone can do I and II over one weekend. I’m guilty of not using it as much as I should really, especially on myself. I find it totally relaxing and use it on the children when they are hurt or ill, on the ponies, on the dog, everybody in fact! R recovered really quickly after her dental treatment, which may or may not have anything to do with all the reiki she had straight afterwards. It does give you something to do when you’ve done everything else. The only thing I can’t do is give my husband reiki as we both end up crying with laughter.

  11. Wow, had no idea you practice Reiki. Next time you drop by I shall badger you for a quick session!

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