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A cloudbuster: (seen at bottom, right of center, not the sculpture) a device intended to influence weather, supposedly by altering levels of "atmospheric orgone".

Orgone energy is a hypothetical form of energy proposed and promoted in the 1930s by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who originated the term to describe a universal bioenergetic force.[1] Although beginning as a variation of the Freudian concept of libido, Reich ultimately came to see orgone as a massless, omnipresent substance, similar to luminiferous aether, but more closely associated with vital, living energy than inert matter. Orgone supposedly violated the second law of thermodynamics, coalescing and creating organization on all scales, from the smallest microscopic units - called bions in orgone theory - to macroscopic structures like organisms, clouds, or even galaxies. It was proposed it could be collected in specially designed "orgone accumulators" to be used as a form of therapy or in tools such as cloudbusters, devices intended to stimulate rainfall.[2] Reich's follower Charles R. Kelley went so far as to claim that orgone was the creative substratum in all of nature, comparable to Mesmer's animal magnetism, the Odic force of Carl Reichenbach and Henri Bergson's élan vital.[1]

Reich created the Orgone Institute after immigrating to the US, and pursued research into orgone energy for more than a decade, publishing his own work through the institute and producing orgone accumulators and related devices for distribution. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eventually obtained a federal injunction barring the interstate distribution of orgone-related materials, on the charge that Reich and his associates were making false and misleading claims. When Reich violated the injunction he was jailed, and all orgone-related equipment and literature owned by Reich and his associates were destroyed.[3]

Orgone is regarded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a type of "putative energy", a model which some therapists use for clinical procedures but which is untestable or defies measurement.[4] According to writer K. Isaacs, the idea of orgone is a useless and discredited fiction.[5]



The concept of orgone belongs to Reich's later work, after he immigrated to the US. Reich's early work was based in the Freudian conception of the libido, influenced by sociological understandings with which Freud disagreed, though other prominent theorists who worked in the Freudian model - such as Herbert Marcuse and Carl Jung - followed similar lines. While Freud had focused on a solipsistic conception of mind in which unconscious and inherently selfish primal drives (primarily the sexual drive, or libido) were suppressed or sublimated by internal representations (cathexes) of parental figures (the superego), for Reich libido was a life-affirming force repressed by society directly. For example, in one of his better known analyses Reich observes a worker's political rally, noting that participants were careful not to violate signs that prohibited walking on the grass; Reich saw this as the state co-opting unconscious responses to parental authority as a means of controlling behavior.[6] He was expelled from the Institute of Psycho-analysis because of these disagreements over the nature of the libido and his increasingly political stance and was forced to leave Germany very soon after Hitler came to power.[7]

However, Reich took an increasingly bioenergetic view of libido. In the early 20th century, when molecular biology was in its infancy, developmental biology in particular still presented mysteries that made the idea of a specific life energy respectable, as was articulated by theorists such as Hans Driesch. As a psycho-analyst Reich aligned such theories with the Freudian libido, while as a materialist he believed such a life-force must be susceptible to physical experiment. He wrote in The Function of the Orgasm; "Between 1919 and 1921, I became familiar with Driesch's 'Philosophie des Organischen' and his 'Ordnungslehre'...Driesch's contention seemed incontestable to me. He argued that, in the sphere of the life function, the whole could be developed from a part, whereas a machine could not be made from a screw..... However, I couldn't quite accept the transcendentalism of the life principle. Seventeen years later I was able to resolve the contradiction on the basis of a formula pertaining to the function of energy. Driesch's theory was always present in my mind when I thought about vitalism. The vague feeling I had about the irrational nature of his assumption turned out to be justified in the end. He landed among the spiritualists."[8]

The concept of orgone was the result of this work in the psycho-physiology of libido. After his immigration to the US, Reich began to speculate about biological development and evolution, and then branched out into much broader speculations about the nature of the universe.[1] Believing he had detected "bions" - self-luminescent sub-cellular vesicles visible in decaying materials, and presumably present universally - he first conceived them as electrodynamic or radioactive entities, as had the Ukranian biologist Alexander Gurwitsch, but later concluded from his research that he had discovered an entirely unknown but measurable force, which he then named "orgone",[1] a pseudo-Greek formation probably from org- "impulse, excitement" as in org-asm, plus -one as in ozone (the Greek neutral participle, virtually *οργων).[9]

For Reich neurosis became a physical manifestation he called "body armor" - deeply seated tensions and inhibitions in the physical body that were not separated from any mental effects that might be observed.[10] He developed a therapeutic approach he called vegetotherapy that was aimed at opening and releasing this body armor so that free instinctive reflexes - which he considered a token of psychic well-being - could take over.


Orgone was closely associated with sexuality: Reich, following Freud, saw nascent sexuality as the primary energetic force of life. The term itself was chosen to share a root with the word orgasm, which both Reich and Freud took to be a fundamental expression of psychological health. This focus on sexuality, while acceptable in the clinical perspective of Viennese psychoanalytic circles, scandalized the conservative American public even as it appealed to countercultural figures like William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

In at least some cases, Reich's experimental techniques do not appear to have been very careful, or to have taken precautions to remove experimental bias[11]. Nevertheless, conclusions based on these unreplicated informal sensory observations by Reich and his associates are still regarded and relied upon as fact in current publications by orgonomists. Reich was concerned with experimental verification from other scientists. Albert Einstein famously agreed to participate, but thought Reich's research lacked scientific detachment and experimental rigor; he found Reich's demonstrations of "orgone heat" inconclusive.[12]

Orgone and its related concepts were quickly denounced in the post-World War II American press;[13] Reich and his students were seen as a "cult of sex and anarchy", at least in part because orgone was linked with the title of his best-known book The Function of the Orgasm, and this led to numerous investigations as a communist[14] and under a wide variety of other pretexts;[15] He was, as the New York Times later put it, "much maligned".[16] The psychoanalytical community of the time saw his approach to healing diseases as quackery of the worst sort, and they took his comments about UFOs out of context to make him look like a charlatan.[17] In 1954 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration successfully sought an injunction to prevent Reich from making medical claims relating to orgone, which (among other stipulations) prevented him from shipping "orgone devices" across state lines.[18] Reich defied the order and was jailed, and the FDA took that opportunity to destroy any of Reich's books which mentioned orgone, along with research materials and devices.[18][19][20][21].

Orgone has not been validated by scientific experiment, including the work of Reich's own circle of students, though some of the specific observations have been replicated. In particular, Stefan Müschenich has demonstrated effects of orgone accumulators on test subjects in keeping with Reich's original descriptions, while a subjects exposed to a known "dummy box" showed no such effects.[22]. As of 2007, the National Institutes of Health database PubMed, and the Web of Science database, contained only 4 or 5 peer-reviewed scientific papers published (since 1968) dealing with orgone therapy.

Some psychotherapists and psychologists practicing various kinds of Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology have continued to use Reich's proposed emotional-release methods and character-analysis ideas,[22][23][24] but use of orgone equipment is rare, limited mainly to therapists who have been trained in "Reichian" institutions such as the American College of Orgonomy.

Orgone in popular culture

Orgone was used in the writings of several prominent beat generation authors, who were fascinated by both its purported curative and sexual aspects. To that extent, it is heavily associated with the 1950s counterculture movement, though it did not carry over into the more extensive movements of the 1960s.

William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs was a major proponent of orgone research, who often included it as part of the surreal imagery in his novels. Orgone interested Burroughs particularly because he believed that it could be used to ease or alleviate "junk sickness" - a popular term for heroin withdrawal. This fit well in the context of his novels, which were usually narrative recreations of his own experiences with narcotics and the Beat life.

Burroughs explicitly compares "kicking the habit" to cancer in the novel Junky, and ties it to the use of orgone accumulators. He writes:

Cancer is rot of tissue in a living organism. In junk sickness the junk dependent cells die and are replaced. Cancer is a premature death process. The cancer patient shrinks. A junkie shrinks – I have lost up to fifteen pounds in three days. So I figure if the accumulator is a therapy for cancer, it should be therapy for the after-effects of junk sickness.

At the time that Burroughs was writing, orgone accumulators were only available from Reich's Orgone Institute in New York, offered for a ten dollar per month donation. Burroughs built his own instead, substituting rock wool for the sheet iron, but still achieved the desired effect. Burroughs writes about what occurred once he started using the accumulator:

Constant use of junk of the years has given me the habit of directing attention inward. When I went into the accumulator and sat down I noticed a special silence that you sometimes feel in deep woods, sometimes on a city street, a hum that is more rhythmic vibration than a sound. My skin prickled and I experienced an aphrodisiac effect similar to good strong weed. No doubt about it, orgones are as definite a force as electricity. After using the accumulator for several days my energy came back to normal. I began to eat and could not sleep more than eight hours. I was out of the post cure drag.

Jack Kerouac

In Kerouac's popular novel, On The Road, the orgone accumulator was treated more as another type of drug than as a medical device: primarily a stimulant, with strong sexual overtones. When Sal Paradise visits Old Bull Lee in the novel (characters representing Kerouac and Burroughs, respectively), Lee's orgone accumulator is described as follows:

'Say, why don’t you fellows try my orgone accumulator? Put some juice in your bones. I always rush up and take off ninety miles an hour for the nearest whorehouse, hor-hor-hor!' said Bull Lee… The orgone accumulator is an ordinary box big enough for a man to sit inside on a chair: a layer of wood, a layer of metal, and another layer of wood gather in orgones from the atmosphere and hold them captive long enough for a human to absorb more than a usual share. According to Reich, orgones are vibratory atmospheric atoms of the life-principle. People get cancer because they run out of orgones. Old Bull thought his orgone accumulator would be improved if the wood he used was as organic as possible, so he tied bushy bayou leaves and twigs to his mystical outhouse. It stood there in the hot, flat yard, an exfoliate machine clustered and bedecked with maniacal contrivances. Old Bull slipped off his clothes and went to sit and moon over his navel.

J.D. Salinger

According to J.D. Salinger's daughter, Margaret A. Salinger, the author would sometimes sit in an orgone box along with practicing other homeopathic health regimens such as drinking urine and acupuncture.[25]

Grant Morrison

Orgone is mentioned in several issues of the DC Comics's Doom Patrol during Grant Morrison's tenure as its writer, one of numerous pseudoscientific or quasimystical theories which the comic assumes to be true.

Orson Bean

Actor Orson Bean's personal response to Orgone therapy, Me and the Orgone, promoted the benefits he perceived on his own life from the treatments.


The English space rock band, Hawkwind, wrote a song entitled "Orgone accumulator"[26] for their Space Ritual album of 1972.

Peep Show

In an episode of the British sitcom Peep Show, a group resembling Scientology evaluates the well-being of its members by measuring “orgone levels."

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Charles R. Kelley Ph.D., "What is Orgone Energy?" 1962
  2. ^ BION EXPERIMENTS:: Adam Brown
  3. ^ "Orgone Energy - Wilhelm Reich and the Orgone Accumulator". Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  4. ^ "putative energy fields (also called biofields) have defied measurement to date by reproducible methods. Therapies involving putative energy fields are based on the concept that human beings are infused with a subtle form of energy. This proposed vital energy or life force is known under different names in different cultures, such as qi ... prana, etheric energy, fohat, orgone, odic force, mana, and homeopathic resonance".
  5. ^ Isaacs, K., writing in Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy stated that orgone is "a useless fiction with faulty basic premises, thin partial theory, and unsubstantiated application results. It was quickly discredited and cast away." Isaacs, K. (1999). Searching for Science in Psychoanalysis. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 29(3), 235-252
  6. ^ See The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Listen Little Man
  7. ^ Paul A. Robinson, The Sexual Radicals: Reich, Roheim, Marcuse, Paladin, 1972. Previously published as The Sexual Radicals, London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1970. - Originally published as The Freudian Left, New York; London: Harper and Row.
  8. ^ Quoted by Malgosia Askanas, Ph.D. at
  9. ^ Webster's Dictionary[1]
  10. ^ Edward W. L. Smith, The Body in Psychotherapy, Macfarland, 2000.
  11. ^ A critique of Reich's experimental procedure subsequent to the discovery of SAPA bions (retrieved 10/27/09)
  12. ^ See Orgone experiment with Einstein
  13. ^ Mildred Brady, The New Cult of Sex & Anarchy, article in The New Republic printed 1947
  14. ^ Online Biographical Database, retrieved June 2008,
  15. ^ Norman D. Livergood, America, Awake!, Dandelion Books 2002, p.263
  16. ^ New York Times, May 23, 1997.
  17. ^ Richard Grossinger (1982). Planet Medicine: From Stone Age Shamanism to Post-industrial Healing (revised ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 293. ISBN 0394712382. 
  18. ^ a b "Decree of injuction order (March 19, 1954) by Judge Clifford". 
  19. ^ Gardner, Martin (1952). "Chapter 21: Orgonomy". Fads and Fallacies in the name of Science. Dover. 
  20. ^ Gardner, Martin. On the Wild Side. Prometheus Books. 
  21. ^ Lugg, A. (1987). Bunkum, Flim-Flam and Quackery: Pseudoscience as a Philosophical Problem. Dialectica, 41(3), 221-230.
  22. ^ a b Müschenich, S. & Gebauer, R.: "Die (Psycho-)Physiologischen Wirkungen des Reich'schen Orgonakkumulators auf den Menschlichen Organismus" ("The [Psycho-]Physiological Effects of the Reich Orgone Accumulator on the Human Organism,") University of Marburg (Germany), Department of Psychology, Master's Degree Dissertation, 1986. Published as: "Der Reichsche Orgonakkumulator. Naturwissenschaftliche Diskussion - Praktische Anwendung - Experimentelle Untersuchung" ("The Reichian Orgone-Accumulator. Scientific Discussion - Practical Use - Experimental Testing"), 1987, published by Nexus Verlag, Frankfurt (Also see the published work: Müschenich, Stefan: Der Gesundheitsbegriff im Werk des Arztes Wilhelm Reich (The Concept of Health in the Works of the physician Wilhelm Reich), Doktorarbeit am Fachbereich Humanmedizin der Philipps-Universität Marburg (M.D. thesis, 1995, University of Marburg (published by Verlag Gorich & Weiershauser, Marburg) 1995.
  23. ^ Kavouras, J.: "HEILEN MIT ORGONENERGIE: Die Medizinische Orgonomie (HEALING BY ORGONE ENERGY: Medical Orgonomy)," Turm Verlag (publisher), Beitigheim, Germany, 2005; Lassek, Heiko: "Orgon-Therapie: Heilen mit der Reinen Lebensenergie (Orgone Therapy: Healing by [the] pure Life/Vital energy)," Scherz Verlag (publisher), 1997, Munchen, Germany; Medeiros, Geraldo: "Bioenergologia: A ciencia das energias de vida" (portuguese: Bioenergology: The science of life's energies), Editora Universalista, Brazil
  24. ^ DeMeo, J.: "The Orgone Accumulator Handbook," Natural Energy, 1989
  25. ^
  26. ^

Further reading

Reich's own works

  • The Bioelectrical Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety
  • The Bion Experiments: On the Origins of Life
  • Function of the Orgasm|Function of the Orgasm (Discovery of the Orgone, Vol.1)
  • Contact With Space: Oranur Second Report
  • Cosmic Superimposition: Man's Orgonotic Roots in Nature
  • Ether, God and Devil
  • The Orgone Energy Accumulator, Its Scientific and Medical Use
  • The Sexual Revolution

External links

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