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Reiki History 201: A Summary by Denise Sheehan (revised 10.20.23)

Whenever I teach Reiki I, I share the origin story of Usui Reiki, which I will now call Reiki History 101. In summary, Dr. Usui, also called Usui Sensei, “rediscovered” a system of Reiki (healing energy) when meditating on Mt. Kurama in Japan. He formalized his version of Reiki as “Usui Reiki Ryoho” and he opened a healing clinic where he offered healing sessions, lectures and teachings on his system of Reiki. He taught Dr. Hiyashi, who then taught Mrs. Takata. Mrs. Takata taught 22 Reiki Masters, who were instrumental in disseminating Reiki teachings throughout the Western world.

Because of variations in teaching, Reiki has evolved considerably from the original techniques developed by Usui Sensei, with many existing variations of Reiki and Reiki symbols. William Lee Rand has researched and preserved much of the history of Reiki. In addition, he’s also contributed to the evolution of Reiki. So, we’ll explore more of his story here.

William Lee Rand learned Usui Reiki in Hawaii in 1981 and became a Reiki Master in 1989. To support his students, he began to create training materials. For his own learning, he continued to study Reiki from many teachers, both in the US and in Japan, adding to his understanding of Reiki practices. He also heavily researched Reiki origins. In my opinion, he has made a considerable contribution to the entire field of Reiki studies. In addition, through The International Center for Reiki Training, he has trained and connected many Reiki teachers through the years who have supported the expansion of Reiki studies. In addition, he channeled more evolutionary forms of Reiki, including Usui/Holy Fire® III Reiki and Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki.

With these new forms of Reiki, Usui/Holy Fire® III Reiki and Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki, I feel like students are understandably confused about the history and the differences between these systems. Although William Lee Rand’s textbooks for each of the levels of Reiki provide detailed summaries of the history, I’m hoping to provide some context and clarity through my own eagle view, and through the lens of questions that emerge from my students.

William Lee Rand tells us that he has worked with a spiritual advisor, Janice Jones, who helped him in 2014 to discover, “a healing energy that is more refined and contained a higher level of consciousness” (Usui/Holy Fire® III Reiki Master Manual, p. 14). He was guided to adapt his Master training the next day utilizing a new Master symbol and replacing the attunement process with an ignition. Thus began Usui/Holy Fire® Reiki, which later received upgrades, historically the Usui/Holy Fire® II version in 2015 and the most current version we have today, Usui/Holy Fire® III in 2018. In this case, the “III” denotes the version of Holy Fire rather than the level of training a student has received, which would also be noted on a student’s training certificate.

Summary of Differences between Usui Reiki Ryoho and Usui/Holy Fire® III:

  • In Usui Reiki, the capacity to channel Reiki is received through an attunement process, where the Reiki energy is channeled through the teacher and into the student in a formal ceremony. In the Holy Fire® versions, Reiki energy is instead received through meditations that are called ignitions, placements and experiences. In this way, the energy is more pure, without being dependent on the consciousness or clarity of the teacher as channel. It’s more shamanic too in that it comes directly from Spirit.
  • The training content for Reiki I and Reiki II workshops in both systems is much the same; however, there are two meditations per class replacing the attunement process. The Master-level classes are completely different between the systems. In the Usui Reiki teachings, the Master class was primarily focused on the ceremony for offering attunements for each level of Reiki training, as well as healing attunements that could be shared with clients for amplified healing benefit. There were four variations of attunement processes learned and practiced. In the Usui/Holy Fire® III system, there are roots of the original Reiki teachings from Usui Sensei, but there’s a large emphasis on meditations, in the form of ignitions, placements and experiences, that take each student on a personal discovery journey. In addition, the group-shares create a higher level of connection and peer learning that I find to be personally and professionally quite rewarding.
  • Many Usui Reiki Masters have only one Usui Master Symbol included in their training. However, some Usui Reiki Masters have two additional Tibetan shamanic symbols included in their training. In the Usui/Holy Fire® III system, these Tibetan symbols are meant to be removed, as they reportedly dilute the new Reiki energies. The Usui Master Symbol remains and a new Holy Fire symbol is added. From my own energetic reading, during the Usui/Holy Fire® II version, the Tibetan Master symbols felt more incongruent than they do with  Usui/Holy Fire® III. I sometimes feel called to re-integrate them with powerful results that feel highly compatible with Holy Fire® energies.
  • In our teachings of Usui Reiki, we often said that there was no dogma, which wasn’t actually true because there were teachings and we used language to convey them. However, Usui Reiki seemed to be more accessible because Christian terms weren’t used by most teachers, so the teachings were open to interpretation through each student’s spiritual worldview. However, the Usui/Holy Fire® III materials reflect Christian-based language much more freely, which can be more accessible for some students, but less so for others. I personally don’t experience the energies as being related to Christianity at all, but more reflective of cosmic Christ Consciousness, which I feel is very connected to our evolutionary path on Earth.  
  • I’ve also noticed that since sharing Usui/Holy Fire® III, healing crises for clients and students are practically non-existent or very mild. That wasn’t true at all when sharing Usui Reiki, in fact, they were fairly common. At the same time, the Reiki feels just as effective, if not more so. When healing crises do occur, I trust in the divine wisdom and amplified healing powers supported by Reiki; still, it’s lovely when healing comes with ease.
  • Students who have studied Usui Reiki levels I and II or those who have studied through the Usui Reiki Master level may all take the Usui/Holy Fire® III Master level training. There’s no need to repeat Usui/Holy Fire® III levels I and II.

Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki did not originate with Usui Sensei; rather it was created by William Lee Rand and other healers affiliated with The International Center for Reiki Training. In 1989, Rand began to receive non-Usui Reiki symbols and attunement techniques from various sources. In 1993 he began to share them with some of his spiritually sensitive students and together they assessed effectiveness and selected several symbols, some of which are associated with other healing schools and systems. Later, Rand developed an attunement process (now known as ignitions) and a new system of Reiki. In 1995 he named this system Karuna Reiki®, known as the “Reiki of Compassion.” With Rand’s receipt of the Holy Fire® symbol and frequencies in 2014, he incorporated the Holy Fire® symbol as the Karuna Reiki Master symbol, and then adapted with each version of Holy Fire to the current version, Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki. Again, the “III” denotes the version of Holy Fire, rather than the level of the training the student receives.  Karuna Reiki is essentially a fourth level of Reiki training, since it follows the third, or Master level.

Laurelle Shanti Gaia, in The Book on Karuna Reiki®: Advanced Healing Energy for Our Evolving World, tells us:

The more I use Karuna Reiki, the more I recognize that it is somehow facilitating an inter-dimensional flow of energies. By this I mean it is allowing the practitioner to activate soul memory of healing technologies from ancient times, and to link through the dimensions to bring them into the current time space that we know to be the third dimensional reality (p. 51).

I resonate with this perception so much, as in my shamanic journeying I have seen how the healing technologies from our ancient, more consciously advanced civilizations (such as Lemuria), hold essential keys for our evolving humanity, through our beloved connection with our Earth, as we re-ascend together.

Some other useful distinctions for Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki:

  • This version of Reiki evolved from the Usui Reiki teachings and works in harmony with them. It’s meant to be taught as an advanced version to those who are already Reiki Masters and working with the Usui Master Symbol for at least six months.
  • Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki can be taught to both Usui Reiki Masters and Usui/Holy Fire® III Masters. For those who are Usui Masters, they change lineage to Usui/Holy Fire® III, although there is an experience shared in the training that makes Karuna compatible with other forms of Reiki.
  • From the training manual, you can see that there were once two levels of Karuna® Reiki, with four symbols in each level. In Reiki: The Healing Touch, Rand shares that originally there were only four symbols total (p. 28). All eight symbols are taught now in one Master-level training course, not broken down into two courses.
  • According to the manual, this class is to be taught for a minimum of three days. However, it may be possible to teach a very small group who are current Usui/Holy Fire® III masters, knowledgeable in all the Holy Fire concepts and symbols, in two days.

I practiced Usui Reiki Ryoho for eleven years, to infinite benefit in all areas of my life. Throughout my journey, I felt that my Reiki frequencies were evolving, especially since Reiki is embedded in all my daily activities, life work and teachings. My Reiki began to feel more and more galactic over time. For me, these two new frequencies of Reiki have enhanced my experience even more. I can feel and sense the broader range of available healing frequencies. Many of my clients also noticed the difference when receiving Reiki from me. I completely honor those who are content with their Usui Reiki, as well as those who are eager to embrace a more evolutionary path with their Reiki, whether that involves the Usui/Holy Fire® III progression or any other route.  


  • Laurelle Shanti Gaia, The Book on Karuna Reiki®: Advanced Healing Energy for Our Evolving World, 2001.
  • William Lee Rand, Registered Holy Fire® III Karuna® Reiki Master Training Manual, 2019.
  • William Lee Rand, Reiki the Healing Touch: First and Second Degree Manual, 2005.
  • William Lee Rand, Usui/Holy Fire® III Reiki Master Manual, 2019.
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