Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

December 10, 2011

Who the Hell was Wilhelm Reich?

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 3:46 pm

Whilst surfing the ‘Net for herbalist purposes the other day, I happened upon the name “Wilhelm Reich.” “Who is that?,” I thought, and then answered myself, “Crackpot scientist. Weird cultlike followers.”

My sketchy memory didn’t seem very fair, so I decided to Wikipedia the guy. It turns out that he started out as a psychiatrist, working within Germany’s Communist Party to support sexual freedom in the hopefully soon-arriving Communist utopia. He believed that sexual repression underlay problems like neurosis and sadism, and that freedom in matters like birth control and divorce could reduce the need for psychotherapy. His freedom-loving ways soon pissed off Communists and Nazis alike. Comintern and the Nazi party banned his books, burned them, and put out warrants for his death. Reich had to flee, first to Oslo, and years later to America.

While in Sweden, Wilhelm had moved his theory of sexual repression into a physical framework. He studied a mysterious substance or energy called “orgone,” which is the stuff of life and orgasm. It’s blue, it makes the sky blue, and it holds the galaxy together. If your personal orgone is blocked, it makes you cranky and physically weak. Reich constructed boxes of metal and wood layers which attracted and concentrated orgone, and patients sat inside to get revitalized. This must be the part that had me thinking “crackpot”… the orgone accumulator smells like a big steaming pile of horseshit, if you ask me.

So once in America, Reich published several journals regarding orgone, and operated a laboratory on his estate, “Orgonon,” in Maine, where he and his students could run experiments about orgone. Everyone enjoyed total freedom, and eventually the scientific method repeatedly demonstrated the falsehood of orgone, which is why you don’t hear about it anymore. Oh, if only.

In fact, the news media jumped into the game and infused a lot of politics and sex phobia into the discussion on Reich and his work. At first, a few (pro-Communist?) writers slammed Reich, especially in New Republic  magazine. According to Reich’s followers, these writers didn’t like his critique of Communist totalitarianism, and they found it easy to slide into mockery of the unlikely orgone accumulator, now dubbed the “sex box.” The story of Reich’s anarchical sex cult up on the Orgonon compound was too good not to repeat, so uncritical newswriters passed the tale around until it might as well have been true.

The medical establishment eagerly jumped on board, as they were in the process of purging all “natural” healing methods from practice in favor of an all-powerful MD-Big Pharma axis. In their eyes, the sex box was not merely funny or ineffective, but it was an attempt to defraud  patients. Mind you, the orgone accumulator was at the center of all Reich’s research from this period. Studying the box’s effects intently would seem to run counter to the idea of fraudulently fobbing it off on idiots, but perhaps research conducted outside of the academic Establishment simply doesn’t count.

FDA Inspector Charles A. Wood was soon on the case, snooping about Orgonon with Reich’s permission. Early in the investigation, he told one of Reich’s employees that (I paraphrase) “The accumulator is a fake and Reich is fooling the public with it. He will soon go to jail.” No complaints from patients could be produced, but plenty of experts could  be found to dismiss the accumulator on the basis of its weirdness. For instance, the son of FDA physicist Kurt Lion remembers his father being asked to prove that the box was just a box and that Dr. Reich was a fraud — not  to evaluate the box and find out whether or not it might really do anything, or to review Dr. Reich’s work.

The FDA asked a court for an injunction to shut down Reich’s trade in orgone accumulators. The judge ignored Reich’s response to the FDA (a Motion to Dismiss), and awarded the FDA their injunction by technical default. The full scope of the injunction was utterly villainous, and included the following:

Case #1056, March 19, 1954, US District Court,
Portland, Maine, Judge John D. Clifford, Jr.

“BANNED, until expunged of all references
to the orgone energy:

The Discovery of the Orgone
Vol.I, The Function of the Orgasm
Vol.II, The Cancer Biopathy
The Sexual Revolution
Ether, God and Devil
Cosmic Superimposition
Listen, Little Man
The Mass Psychology of Fascism
Character Analysis
The Murder of Christ
People in Trouble


The Orgone Energy Accumulator: Its Scientific and Medical Use
The Oranur Experiment
The Orgone Energy Bulletin
The Orgone Energy Emergency Bulletin
International Journal of Sex-Economy and Orgone Research
Internationale Zeitschrift fur Orgonomie
Annals of the Orgone Institute”

Reich must have done something right, to get Communists and  Nazis and  the good ole US of A all  excited enough to burn his books! Instead of scientifically picking apart the suspected quackery, FDA went into full-on, cartoonish witch-hunter mode and tried to literally burn out the heresy, sending books and journals to incinerators in Maine and New York. The de facto  function of the FDA seems to be shutting down all alternatives to mainstream, Establishment-operated food and medical options. They always seem to have the authority and resources to crack down on experimenters and raw milk collectives, but they can’t do anything to remedy the chemical soup that lately passes for food.

Eventually, FDA men destroyed the orgone accumulators at Orgonon by hacking them apart with axes. Wilhelm Reich was sent to prison after an assistant broke the judge’s injunction and smuggled some orgone accumulators across state lines. Reich died two weeks before becoming eligible for parole.

In the age of cheap books and photocopying, not all of Reich’s work could be destroyed. Reich’s students and Reich study groups continued to develop his ideas, and he had a following through networks of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. As well, Reich sealed some of his papers and ordered them to remain sealed until 50 years after his death, to protect them from the modern inquisition (thus, they only became available in 2007). Nowadays, with the Internets, elites have pretty sloppy control over the flow of information, and heretical ideas like orgone can really take on new life. It’s a crisis (for some), that ideas can be built on by anyone and published to the ‘Net, cutting out the publishing house or peer reviewers or government committee that ought to be predetermining the truth for everybody.

Some of the Reich wackiness has actually been replicated and peer-reviewed. James DeMeo replicated Reich’s technology for cloudbusting,  drawing down rain with the power of orgone, as a graduate thesis at the University of Kansas in 1977. Researchers Stefan Müschenich and Rainer Gebauer at the University of Marburg demonstrated some of the effects of the orgone accumulator in 1987, and Günter Hebenstreit at the University of Vienna replicated their findings in 1995. Very strange!

It strikes me that the accumulator could work through other means than actually accumulating orgone. For one, an orgone accumulator will function like a Farraday cage, shielding the inside from electrical field and some types of electromagnetic radiation (a car is a type of Farraday cage; the body will carry a lightning charge around the very outside of the vehicle, leaving the passengers safe inside). We live in an “enriched” electromagnetic environment lately, with cell phone signals and wireless networks constantly permeating us and probably contributing to cancer. Perhaps it’s a good idea to go hide in a Farraday cage for a half an hour a day, and let your body recover. Also, many people are under so much stress, maybe they just need to get away and sit quietly in a box!

I thought about putting in some links to the contemporary orgone science scene, but really you’ll do fine searching for “Wilhelm Reich.” Normally, I would not waste my time studying something that’s already tripped my bullshit detector, but I’m really impressed by the threat Reich apparently posed to the Powers That Be — Nazi, Communist, or All-American — so I think I’ll revisit this from time to time. There seems to be a little evidence for orgone, so it’s probably not an untestable dead-end idea like Intelligent Design (a good idea isn’t one that’s true, it’s one that leads to good questions). Anyway, this guy’s ideas just deserve a second chance after how people treated him!



  1. I just now got around to reading this post. Wow! Even if he was full of woo, the actions of the FDA are simply unsupportable. You still see calls for the stamping out of, say, supplements and shutdowns of small labs that the FDA says makes unscientific claims about their products–which are usually just herbal products, some of which HAVE actually been proven effective. As you say, it’s all about shutting down alternatives to Big Pharma and Big Food. (That whole raw milk thing really gets me mad.) Very interesting post!

    Comment by estraven — January 26, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  2. Y’all are flat-out WRONG, we all need to WORSHIP the FDA actually; please see … Thank You Kindly – SQRLSY One

    Comment by SQRLSY One — January 31, 2013 @ 3:22 am

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