Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Energy: Crazy, Visionary, or Both?

Today, it is difficult to escape some New Age thinker or alternative spiritual practice talking about ‘energy’. It is almost a touchstone of the New Age movement. Much of the New Age talk about energy involves Eastern thought involving ‘Chi’ or ‘Qi’ (universial energy) and related concepts. In the West, when we think of energy it is all about how we power our computers and cars. In the East, energy is a much larger concept, involving not just electrical energy, but also what might be called spiritual energies. You would think no one in the West every discovered ‘universal energy’, a more esoteric understanding of how energy is involved of life and living. Well, that is not true. There was a Western scientist who claimed to discover, and prove, that there is an energy that powers not just life, but is the ‘energy of energies’.

Though most people today have never heard his name, Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich had an undeniable impact on the fields of psychology and psychiatry. "Wilhelm Reich," writes Robert Corrington in the preface to his book, Wilhelm Reich: Psychoanalyst and Radical Naturalist, "is one of the most restless figures in modern thought." Sadly, he laments that Reich is also "barely written about these days, let alone read by serious students of psychology or historians of ideas."

Reich and his ideas about a special from of energy in the universe, called "orgone energy," fell out of the mainstream a long time ago. But, should we perhaps, in both scientific and philosophical terms, be giving them a second look today?

Reich’s Early Life

Reich was born on March 24, 1897 in Dobrzcynica, Austria-Hungary, which is now a part of Ukraine. After the First World War, during which Reich fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army, he enrolled in law at the University of Vienna before switching to medicine. Reich met Sigmund Freud in 1919, and Freud allowed him to start seeing analytic patients even though he was still an undergraduate. Reich received his MD in 1922, and in the same year began working at Freud’s psychoanalytic clinic in Vienna. Just two years later, in 1924, he became the clinic’s assistant director.

Early Work on Orgastic Potency

1924 also marked the start of Reich’s work on an idea that he called "orgastic potency," which he defined as the ability to release emotions and lose oneself in orgasm. He argued that orgastic potency should be at the center of character analysis, an area of study that he had already made a name for himself in. Though his ideas were not well received, Reich continued his work on sexuality over the next decade. In 1934 he moved to Norway and started theorizing about an electrical or chemical substance that might be the facilitator of orgastic potency.

Norwegian researchers and newspapers quickly began criticizing his work, and over 100 articles denouncing Reich were written during the next few years. Reich did, however, find some support out of England. The prominent Scottish educator and author A.S. Neill and anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski both wrote in his defense.

Orgone Energy – The Universal Life Force

Reich moved to the United States in 1939. It was in New York City that he expanded his ideas about orgastic potency into "orgonomy," the study of a cosmic life energy that Reich named "orgone energy."

Reich envisioned orgone energy as an omnipresent, creative substance that energized everything from plant cells to the northern lights. He argued that orgone energy played an anti-entropic role in the universe, meaning that it was responsible for preserving complexity and keeping the universe from devolving into disorder. "The science of orgonomy," writes Elsworth Baker in the forward to Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy, "… offers a scientific basis of understanding for such non-scientific subjects as religion and the liberal arts."

Orgone energy is very similar to Eastern concepts of a universal energy that animates and gives life to the cosmos. It is reminiscent of the Hindu idea of prana, Chinese ideas of chi and the yin and yang energies, and especially the idea of auras, which has its roots Indian and Iranian traditions.

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich

In 1940 Reich began building insulated boxed that he called "orgone accumulators," which were designed to harness the orgone energy of the person sitting inside of them. After testing them on mice with cancer, Reich claimed that the boxes caused cancer growth to either shrink or completely diminish. He argued that they could produce the same results in humans, and even did some unauthorized human trials, which unfortunately cost him his position at the New School in New York.

In 1942 Reich purchased an old farm in Maine and named it Orgonon. Here, he and a few devoted colleagues, among them the artist William Moise, continued their work on orgonomy.

Persecution and Censorship

In 1954 an injunction against Reich, which sought to ban promotional orgonomy material and stop interstate shipment of orgone accumulator, was filed and granted. Reich refused to appear in court, arguing that the truth or falsity of his ideas should be tested by science, not in a court. Nothing much happened until May of 1956, when an undercover FDA agent requested an orgone accumulator from another state. The accumulator was shipped, not by Reich, but by an assistant. Still, Reich was charged with contempt of court. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

Over the summer of 1956 the FDA oversaw the destruction of orgone accumulators. But the FDA didn’t just stop there: All of Reich’s books, journals, and research papers – hundreds of them – were burned or destroyed. Even Reich’s work on topics that had nothing to do with orgonomy was sent to the incinerator. Reich died in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary on November 3, 1956 of apparent heart failure.

The Legacy of Reich and Orgone Energy

During Reich’s lifetime he became somewhat of a sexual evangelist in the countercultural movement. His orgone accumulators were used by such cultural movers and shakers as J.D. Salinger, William S. Burroughs, Orson Bean, Woody Allen, and Jack Kerouac. Orgone accumulators later made appearances in the 1968 Roger Vadim film "Barbarella" and the 1973 Woody Allen film "Orgasmatron".

You would think with his historical links to the countercultural movement, the sexual revolution in the 60’s, and the rise of interest in Eastern spirituality, that Reich would be a household name among New Age thinkers today. That would be to misunderstand the counterculture movement from the 50s through the 70s which laid the groundwork for the ‘New Age’ movement. Science was not ‘cool’ (unless it involved traveling to space). Science was seen as part of the problem.

Scientists had created the pesticide DDT which ended up poisoning people as well as crops; scientists were building the weapons of mass destruction; and scientists were being used by government officials to ‘prove’ cannabis was comparable to heroin (and set off the ‘War on Drugs’). Reich was a pure (though very wild) scientist. He was viewed as part of the ‘establishment’ (even though he was the exact opposite of the ‘establishment’). If Wilhelm Reich had been a philosopher preaching that there was a ‘universal energy’ we could tap to bring world peace, he would be in all the New Age literature, today.

Interest in orgonomy has waxed and waned since Reich’s death. But, in 2008 when the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University unsealed its archives of Reich’s work, suddenly there was a ‘buzz’ about Reich personally (who was this crazy man?) and in his research. Where once a few obscure researchers and historians may have run across Reich in dusty books, now, with the Internet, Reich and his concepts on orgone energy has gained a wide, new audience. Whether this will go on to change the landscape of psychological disciplines (or a serious, scientific look at ‘universal energy’ takes place) remains to be seen. Examining Reich’s work can definitely help offer a fresh new perspective for researchers who are brave enough cast a curious glance at orgonomy.

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Part of the new interested in Reich’s research is the result of the resent acceptance of accupressure and accupucture where the flow of ‘universal energy’ or ‘chi’ is a vital component in understanding these systems of health. Likewise with the concept of Reiki, it is about the flow of universal energy. When studying Chinese medicine or herbology, the understanding the concept of yin and yang energy, and the flow of energy is indispensable. The other part of the renewed interest in Reich and orgone energy has been about orgone energy’s relationship to other forms of energy (see strange video of recharging a battery HERE) such as using orgone to counter ‘negative energy’ created by manmade technologies such as ELF and EMF.

When looking into Reich and his whole concept of orgone energy it is difficult to sperate what seems madness from scientific breakthrough. Historically, though, it takes a leap from what is known into the unknown to make the most important discoveries – and – separating the madman from the visionary is typically impossible without the passage of time.

Would you like a personal energy reading? Give PsychicChatline.com a call at 1-800-492-2058, toll free USA and Canada. They have a number of psychic readers who are adept at Reiki, aura reading and performing energy work. You also may REALLY enjoy talking with Psychic Paige. Paige is a Reiki master, yoga instructor and noted clairvoyant. You can reach her at 1-866-407-7164, also toll free USA and Canada.

Resource Links

Book: Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy
Book: Wilhelm Reich: Psychoanalyst and Radical Naturalist
Reich’s Biography
Biography, Research Summary, Reich