The 'Reiki' Factor in The Radiance Technique

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The 'Reiki' Factor in The Radiance Technique[1] is a book by psychic, astrologer, and Latin teacher Barbara Weber Ray describing her version of Reiki, The Radiance Technique ® (or TRT®, for short). Quotes by Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, Arthur C. Clarke,[2] and Marilyn Ferguson are sprinkled liberally throughout the book.

About the author[edit]

Barbara Weber Ray, Ph.D, (b. 1941 in Houston, Texas) is a psychic,[3] "professional, licensed astrologer", Reiki practitioner, and Latin teacher.[4][5][6] She obtained a BA and MA in the Classics, Ancient Languages and Civilizations, and a Ph.D in Humanities from Florida State University,[6] and is a member of Mensa.[7] In 1973 she started practicing clairvoyancy.[4] She used to have an astrology radio show in Atlanta called "Star-Talk".[4]


The book has three parts divided into 18 chapters: a history and description of Reiki; how to use TRT (but only if you've been attuned to the cosmic energy, of course), anecdotes and testimonials (these comprise over half of the book), and some appendices containing quotes relevant to the cause, frequently asked questions, a chapter about the author, and a preface (which is at the end). (One of the quotes is the "Truth goes through three phases" formulation of the Galileo gambit, and it is erroneously[8] attributed to Schopenhauer.)

There's light. And then there's Light.[edit]

Dr. Ray tells of John Ott's experiments on the effects of different kinds of light on health and his theory that sunlight is necessary for human health, and quotes him saying that, just as we have food diets now, humans will go on light diets. She compares this to the Light diet supposedly provided by Reiki ("Light" is Dr. Ray's way of saying "subtle energy".) People are apparently made both of Light and matter (this will be relevant later on).

History of Reiki[edit]

In chapter 8, Dr. Ray says, more or less, that the method now known as TRT was transmitted by word of mouth for centuries, that it came to Asia from some other, unknown, place, and that she was the only scholar who could recognize ancient descriptions of the method for what they really were (that is, TRT).

Spurious Einstein quote[edit]

Einstein's opinion of this book.

In this context, she says:[9]

When Einstein, himself, in the formula E = MC2 proclaimed that light and matter are interchangeable, he rediscovered what mystics seem to have known for centuries. Now the scientist becomes the mystic. Einstein reveals to the listening ear his inner process with his words, "I did not arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind".

Dr. Ray doesn't provide a reference for the quote, which seems to have first appeared in the 1971 spirituality book Be Here Now by Hindu spiritual teacher Ram Dass.[10][11] It may be useful to note that all other references to the quote, mostly in New Age- and business-related publications, occur in works published after 1971.[12]

Reiki discovered by extraterrestrial aliens?[edit]

The knowledge of TRT goes back many centuries:[9]

Modern scholars often come upon this inner knowledge but misinterpret it because it was veiled in cryptic languages and symbols designed to give double meanings.
In the East, this knowledge was taken into China and Japan and also put into many other forms, hidden in symbols and buried in ancient, obscure languages.

But here's the interesting part:[9]

In The Sirius Mystery, astronomer [sic][13] Robert Temple gives a scholarly, honest, yet cautious account of an anthropological study of the Dogon tribe in Africa, who have an incredible knowledge of Sirius, known as the Dog Star. In our remote past, has there been some contact with beings of a higher intelligence and consciousness who transmitted this knowledge of activating higher circuits in humans? Indeed, there is strong evidence on this planet that some kind of contact has been made.

Dr. Ray doesn't elaborate further, and leaves the reader to interpret this vague paragraph. She refers to The Sirius Mystery, but absent from her summary is the fact that Temple's argument in his book is that the Dogon people obtained their information from technologically advanced aliens thousands of years ago (though the erroneous description of Temple as being an astronomer provides a hint). Then she asks whether Reiki was "transmitted" by beings "of a higher intelligence and consciousness".

This juxtaposition suggests that the beings are, in fact, aliens, and, indeed, "intelligence" doesn't sound like something that would apply to a spirit; however, the phrase "higher consciousness" is so vague that it could be a reference to a supernatural quality.[14]

Nevertheless, any doubts as to the identity of these beings are expelled by the phrase "on this planet". There are countless things she could have written instead: "on this plane", "on this level of existence", "in this world" (as opposed to the afterlife or spirit world) — but she chose "on this planet", with all its connotations of outer space and the material universe (and note the phrasing: "on this planet" — meaning on Earth, as opposed to, say, Mars or Mercury.)

The entire last sentence is a response to the question of whether Reiki was transmitted by these beings, so it appears she is saying that there is evidence for contact with the specific individuals that brought Reiki to Earth. On the other hand, Dr. Ray says there is strong evidence for "some sort of contact", which could mean that the evidence is only for contact with some aliens, not necessarily the ones that supposedly enlightened humanity by bringing this "circuit-activating" technique. It is difficult to say what the "strong evidence" is, as Dr. Ray provides no references to support her claim. Perhaps she didn't think the matter important enough to merit a thorough treatment, or maybe the evidence is in fact contained in The Sirius Mystery, so she didn't feel the need to repeat herself.

In any case, though we may never know what Dr. Ray meant by this mysterious passage, it may be worth noting that Usui himself said:[15]

I’ve never been given this method by anybody nor studied to get psychic power to heal. I accidentally realized that I have received healing power when I felt the air in mysterious way during fasting. So I have a hard time explaining exactly even I am the founder.

Usui, Einstein, and Reiki[edit]

Dr. Ray goes on to tell what she admits is the legend of Usui's discovery of Reiki. While in India, he supposedly found Sanskrit inscriptions that had a "formula" with symbols for activating cosmic energy. She then speculates that perhaps future civilizations will rediscover Einstein's E = MC2 and "the instructions on how to use it", just as Usui rediscovered Reiki. Also, E = MC2 is a tool for activating energy, just like Reiki is.

Now, Dr. Ray claims Reiki can't be self-taught (that one can only be attuned by another person), just one page after writing about Usui's "discovery" of Reiki. This is strange, given that the story she just told was about Usui teaching himself Reiki. She doesn't even attempt to resolve this glaring and somewhat important contradiction. There's not even so much as a handwave.

Of course, since Usui did not consciously learn Reiki, none of this really matters.

A New Age Dawns[edit]

Now follows a description of Hawayo Takata's role in disseminating Reiki, and Dr. Ray's background in ancient civilizations. A "new age" is dawning, of which TRT is implied to be a very important part. There are no words to describe the wonderful benefits TRT can bring to its users. Like, nothing.

Yup, that'll do nicely.


Anecdotes are not evidence for the efficacy of a treatment, but a few will be analyzed nonetheless. But first, it is worth noting that the placebo effect is known to be very strong and can produce very substantial changes in subjective symptoms such as pain and fatigue. The placebo effect does this by making the body release endorphins and other analgesic substances,[16] for reasons completely unrelated to supernatural powers. This is a mechanism which has been extensively studied and is very well known. Yet, despite this, there are quite a number of stories in this book describing how subjective symptoms such as pain and fatigue improved after laying on of hands. But the placebo effect by definition makes people feel better — even dramatically so. There is no way to tell, using only anecdotes, whether the improvement was due to the placebo effect or to the specific effects of the treatment.

Probably the strangest (and weakest) anecdote is one in which Dr. Ray describes how she picked up an injured seagull, which she says she "never would have had the courage to do had it not been for Reiki". Reiki, in this story, fills much the same role that the phrase "Gott mit uns" used to fill for German morale.

One person suffering from cancer, and who had been taking several pain pills a day, felt better after using Reiki, and over the course of a few weeks reduced her medication intake to only one pill. Once again, the anecdote is quite vague; there is no mention of the duration of the cancer, of the treatment, or whether she had been using any other therapies which could have caused that reduction in pain.

A businesswoman attended a Reiki session. She was tired and nauseous, and originally thought Reiki was just a "metaphysical placebo" that couldn't possibly be of any use to her, but after one hour of Reiki, she felt better, and came to the conclusion that Reiki "works". It seems she was not aware of what a placebo actually is, since the placebo effect is perfectly capable of relieving nausea. In one classic study,[17] nauseous subjects were given a powerful nausea-inducing substance, which they were told would relieve their symptoms. The placebo effect was so strong, that instead of feeling worse, the patients felt relief — in other words, the placebo effect overpowered the physical effects of the medicine! Had the businesswoman known this, she probably would have come to a different conclusion. It may be objected that since she didn't originally believe in Reiki, the placebo effect couldn't possibly have worked. To this it can be replied that belief in a treatment is not absolutely necessary for the placebo effect to function. In addition, if the businesswoman was really convinced that Reiki was nonsense, she wouldn't have gone to the Reiki session in the first place. That she went at all is evidence that she perhaps may have had some belief in it, or that she was sufficiently curious to be susceptible to the placebo effect. Furthermore, the atmosphere and the overall impression of the one-hour Reiki session probably had a suggestive effect on her that could have weakened her resistance. And, of course, there's always the possibility that her nausea would have gotten better anyway; it is not unreasonable to think that a person's nausea could improve in one hour.

The implicit assumption of these anecdotes is that the improvements must have been due to some supernatural power entering the person's body, and that they cannot have been coincidences or the result of the placebo effect (many of these Reiki "conversions" are the result of people being unaware of the extent to which the mind can affect the body). A passage from chapter four of Mark Twain's 1907 book Christian Science could be illustrative (emphasis added):[18]

When I was a boy a farmer's wife who lived five miles from our village had great fame as a faith-doctor—that was what she called herself. Sufferers came to her from all around, and she laid her hand upon them and said, "Have faith—it is all that is necessary," and they went away well of their ailments. She was not a religious woman, and pretended to no occult powers. She said that the patient's faith in her did the work. Several times I saw her make immediate cures of severe toothaches. My mother was the patient. In Austria there is a peasant who drives a great trade in this sort of industry, and has both the high and the low for patients. He gets into prison every now and then for practising without a diploma, but his business is as brisk as ever when he gets out, for his work is unquestionably successful and keeps his reputation high. In Bavaria there is a man who performed so many great cures that he had to retire from his profession of stage-carpentering in order to meet the demand of his constantly increasing body of customers. He goes on from year to year doing his miracles, and has become very rich. He pretends to no religious helps, no supernatural aids, but thinks there is something in his make-up which inspires the confidence of his patients, and that it is this confidence which does the work, and not some mysterious power issuing from himself.[19]

In the 19th century, there was a doctor named Elisha Perkins, who promoted some instruments called "tractors". These "tractors" were a pair of metal rods, which Perkins claimed could cure virtually every condition merely by being waved over the affected spot "very lightly for about twenty minutes".[20] He claimed their curative powers were due to their being made of a "rare alloy". These rods for a while enjoyed immense popularity, though they were opposed by mainstream opinion, there being endorsements from many credentialed and distinguished individuals (doctors, priests, politicians, government officials, and others) as well as hundreds of anecdotes in their favor. A few of the conditions they could supposedly treat included "rheumatism, local pains, inflammations, and even tumors". Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. describes one amusing case involving a treatment session:[20]

A certain lady had the misfortune to have a spot as big as a silver penny at the corner of her eye, caused by a bruise, or some such injury. Another lady, who was a friend of hers, and a strong believer in Perkinism, was very anxious to try the effects of tractoration upon this unfortunate blemish. The patient consented; the lady "produced the instruments, and, after drawing them four or five times over the spot, declared that it changed to a paler color, and on repeating the use of them a few minutes longer, that it had almost vanished, and was scarcely visible, and departed in high triumph at her success." The lady who underwent the operation assured the narrator "that she looked in the glass immediately after, and that not the least visible alteration had taken place."

One doctor tried to debunk them by applying tractors of various substances ("wood; with nails, pieces of bone, slate pencil, and tobacco-pipe") to many patients and found that no matter what they were made of, they had exactly the same effect as the real metallic ones patented by Perkins (he claimed they were made of "rare metal alloys").[20][21] Clearly, this does not mean that waving an object, no matter what, can cure everything. Here is a case of a patient treated by these "sham tractors":[20]

Ann Hill had suffered for some months from pain in the right arm and shoulder. The Tractors (wooden ones) were applied, and in the space of five minutes she expressed herself relieved in the following apostrophe: "Bless me! why, who could have thought it, that them little things could pull the pain from one. Well, to be sure, the longer one lives, the more one sees; ah, dear!"

Eventually, for some reason or other, the tractors fell out of use. Holmes noted:

Of course a large number of apparent cures were due solely to nature; which is true under every form of treatment, orthodox or empirical[22]. Of course many persons experienced at least temporary relief from the strong impression made upon their minds by this novel and marvellous method of treatment.
Many, again, influenced by the sanguine hopes of those about them, like dying people, who often say sincerely, from day to day, that they are getting better, cheated themselves into a false and short-lived belief that they were cured; and as happens in such cases, the public never knew more than the first half of the story.

Is it more likely that the symptomatic changes in TRFiTRT are the result of the well known and scientifically proven "power of the mind", or that they are the result of some vaguely defined, supernatural "force" that has not even been shown to exist? The evidence (and Occam's razor) would suggest the former.

In Dr. Ray's book, there are a number of anecdotes with objective improvements, but, as with all anecdotes, it is impossible to tell whether the improvements were really due to Reiki or just coincidences. In addition, they are generally lacking in detail, and any improvement of a condition is unquestionably ascribed to the use of Reiki. The possibility that the improvement would have occurred naturally without Reiki or that it could have been attributable to other therapies is never even considered. Whether the improvement occurs immediately, or after a few hours, days, weeks, or months, it is said to be caused by Reiki. The assumption behind all these anecdotes seems to be that natural improvement is impossible.[23]

Someone had a kidney stone which, Dr. Ray says, wouldn't dissolve with medication. Some acquaintances of the person used Reiki on her, and advised her to get an X-ray (a second one) to see if the kidney stone changed, which she did, the next day. The kidney stone was smaller. The problem with this anecdote is that there is very little information about the case. How long did she have the stone? How much time elapsed between the patient's first X-ray and the Reiki treatment? It's possible that a few weeks had passed between the first X-ray and the Reiki treatment, meaning there had been plenty of time for the kidney stone to dissolve in the meantime. Even if it dissolved after the Reiki treatment, that means nothing, as it could simply have been a fluke.

Dr. Ray says she was contacted by the family of a person whose cancer allegedly disappeared because of Reiki. Besides the fact that this is a second-hand story, cases of cancers "disappearing" are usually either due to misdiagnosis or spontaneous improvement. Frankly, out of the huge pool of TRT users and anecdotes worldwide, this is rather disappointing, even by alternative medicine standards, given that it's not even a first-hand story. It's quite easy to get many cases of spontaneous remission or misdiagnosis. (Think about it: out of 100 people diagnosed with cancer, how many will be misdiagnosed? Or 1000? Or 10,000?)

Near the end of the book, there is a foreword to the first edition of The Reiki Factor written by a psychotherapist and Reiki user. Among other things, she describes how her knee became very swollen after a fall, and how, throughout the day, the swelling diminished significantly, supposedly due to Reiki (in the evening, she was treated by four other practitioners simultaneously). It cannot be definitely said that Reiki, rather than natural recovery, made the swelling go away. Individual anecdotes have no controls, and there is no reason to believe that the swelling was in any way affected by the laying on of hands. (A doctor who saw the injury right after the fall said she would be on crutches for weeks. But since when are doctors infallible?) If she had not used Reiki, she would have considered it pure luck. and subsequently forgotten it. If someone gets better suddenly without any treatment, they quickly forget it as being a coincidence. They certainly wouldn't rush out and tell everyone what a great coincidence it was. But if they get better while (for example) using Reiki, the event sticks in their mind and they do, in fact, go out and spread the word of Reiki's miraculous benefits, with the result being that cases of untreated recoveries are completely unrepresented. This is one of the problems of anecdotes: they are all subject to selection bias, and do not give the whole (as Dr. Ray is so fond of saying) picture.

It is also described how the person's mother underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer without experiencing baldness, and the lack of hair loss is likewise attributed to Reiki. What medicines were used isn't specified (a truly scientific case report would include this), but some colon cancer drugs (such as oxaliplatin) do not cause alopecia.[24]

Dr. Ray has attuned many people (possibly hundreds or thousands) to Reiki, and the book includes second- or third-hand testimonials sent to her by TRT users she (presumably) doesn't know. The total number of cases worldwide involving TRT users likely numbers in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions. Improbable things happen, and with this enormous pool of anecdotes involving TRT to choose from, it would be practically impossible for there not to be "miraculous" statistical flukes occurring some time after the use of Reiki. ("Some time" being arbitrary and possibly extending to months, maximizing the possibility of natural improvement.) Virtually every single person treated by TRT will eventually experience natural recovery of some sort for some disease. Yet even the most mundane events[25] are attributed to Reiki. There are so many things besides Reiki which could be responsible: Regression to the mean, spontaneous improvement, the placebo effect, misdiagnosis, or factors not mentioned in the anecdote (such as therapies undertaken alongside Reiki), among others.

All anecdotes and testimonials are necessarily self-selected and subject to cognitive biases and ultimately are not useful. Mary Baker Eddy's Health and Science, the founding text of Christian Science, also contains many testimonials describing "miraculous" recoveries, and some of its "cured" diseases include cancer, tuberculosis, heart disease, and various others.[26] Why should TRT be any better than Christian Science, the many other different (supposedly "inauthentic") varieties of Reiki, therapeutic touch, quantum touch (which, unlike Reiki, is claimed to consist of techniques that can be self-taught), the irreligious laying on of hands of Mark Twain's "faith-doctor", or indeed any of the hundreds of contradictory faith healing therapies in the world? There does not seem to be any reason to believe that any particular one of these is superior to the others, given that they all rely on anecdotal evidence.

Testimonials have been used to "prove" the efficacy of virtually everything, including bloodletting, leeching, medicinal tobacco, and lead. For many centuries, tobacco was considered effective for, among other things, asthma, cancer, bronchitis, and colds; as late as the first half of the 20th century, herbalists still promoted its use (albeit more sparingly) for asthma.[27] Why did so many people trust in tobacco? Because clinical trials were not available. In the absence of evidence-based medicine, people were obliged to rely on their personal experience, which was (of course) positive. They obviously wouldn't have used medicinal tobacco if it didn't give them relief, but it was the placebo effect, rather than the herb itself, that made them feel better. If asthmatic people felt relief from tobacco while the herb itself was harming them, then it's not unreasonable to assume the same principle (the placebo effect) applies to Reiki, which is harmless.

In the 18th century, the physician Benjamin Rush wrote a book called A Defence of Blood-letting, as a Remedy for Certain Diseases, in which he offers numerous anecdotes to support the practice, including this one:

[Bloodletting] removes coma. Mr. Henry Clymer was suddenly relieved of this alarming symptom, in the fever of 1794, by the loss of twelve ounces of blood.

He recounts several others, which supposedly demonstrate how bloodletting can cure or prevent smallpox, yellow fever, and relieve the pain of childbirth and shorten the duration of labor, among many other things. Do these anecdotes prove the curative powers of bloodletting? Of course not. Coincidences, together with the placebo effect, can give the strong impression that something is effective, when it really isn't. In the case of bloodletting, the impression was so strong, it led to the therapy being used for thousands of years, only being abandoned after the development of statistics-based medicine. Rush's personal observation led both to his belief that draining most of his patients' blood was good for them, and also that shoving mercury down their throats was beneficial.

It wasn't really Rush's fault he believed in bloodletting and mercury. Without science-based medicine, anecdotal evidence was the best thing he had at his disposal. He had no way of knowing that not only his impressive experiences, but also those of his colleagues and of countless generations of medicine men before him, were in fact of no value.

Nevertheless, there is no excuse to believe in anecdotal evidence now, in this day and age, when we have all the tools of science and statistics at our disposal.

So what does the science say? In most studies Reiki performed no better than sham Reiki.[28] That is to say, in clinical trials of Reiki, patients are divided into two groups: a Reiki group, treated by an attuned Reiki practitioner, and a "sham Reiki" group, treated by a person who does exactly the same thing as the real Reiki practitioner, except that he/she has not undergone the attunement ritual (just as Twain's faith healer could cure people's pain, despite her being an average person).

The supernatural theory behind Reiki is extremely implausible (TRT, specifically, is even more so), and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any.


  1. Why the word "Reiki" is between "quotation" marks "is" a "mystery".
  2. Dr. Ray tells an anecdote about a boy who said "Mommy, now you have magic hands" when his mother's Reiki made his forehead stop hurting. Dr. Ray then quotes Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  3. Or clairvoyant, as she prefers to call herself.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The 'Reiki' Factor in The Radiance Technique, back cover
  5. Unnaturalistic Methods: QR, under The Radiance Technique.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Authentic Seven Level System
  7. The Expanded Reference Manual of The Radiance Technique(R), Authentic Reiki(R),
  8. Science, Pseudoscience, and The Three Stages of Truth, Jeffrey Shallit.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ray, page 49.
  10. Google Books Search for einstein "rational mind" understanding ram dass universe be here now
  11. Talk page of Albert Einstein in Wikiquotes
  12. Google Books search for "I did not arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind"
  13. Temple is not actually an astronomer; he has an undergraduate degree in Oriental Studies and Sanskrit — the confusion probably stems from that fact that Temple is (or was?) a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, which lets anyone willing to pay become a fellow of the organization.
  14. Though since the word "beings" is lowercase and plural, we can safely ignore the possibility of the entities in question being deities.
  15. Usui Reiki: The First Degree Manual With Related Supportive Material For the Courses offered by the Path of Reiki Group, Revs. Whitewolf, Windstorm, and Dawn Ellis-Lopez, 2006.
  16. Brain's Own Pain Relievers At Work in Placebo Effect, Study Suggests, Scientific American, Sarah Graham, Aug 24, 2005.
  17. Wolf S. Effects of suggestions and conditioning on the action of chemical agents in human subjects - the pharmacology of placebos. J Clin Invest 1950;29:100-9. PMCID PMC439730
  18. Christian Science
  19. Christian Science, Mark Twain, Chapter IV.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 [1]
  21. [2]
  22. Here used in the sense (attested in dictionaries) of "based on experience," or, in other words, anecdotal evidence. The word "empirical" is commonly used this way in documents of the period. The 19th-century doctor Dan King, in a skeptical book about unconventional treatments, repeatedly called them "empirical" and referred to the "devious paths of empiricism"; one of the dictionary definitions of empiricism is "undue reliance upon experience, as in medicine".
  23. Incidentally, there is an interesting contradiction in the opinions of many alternative medicine practitioners. On the one hand, they extol the healing powers of the human body, but on the other hand, in anecdote after anecdote, they dismiss any possibility that disease can go away by itself (or, in other words, that the body can actually heal itself).
  24. Oxaliplatin as single agent in previously untreated colorectal carcinoma patients: A phase II multicentric study.
  25. Cf. the seagull incident at the beginning of this section.
  27. Tobacco, A Modern Herbal, Maud Grieve.
  28. Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials, Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E, Int J Clin Pract. 2008 Jun;62(6):947-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.x. Epub 2008 Apr 10.