Wilhelm Reich — Prophet or Madman?


Gaia Staff  |  Nov. 2nd, 2018

“My present work began in the realm of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. This led to the discovery of bio-energy in the living organism and atmosphere. It follows new, hitherto unknown functional laws of nature.”
~ Wilhelm Reich

Born in Austria at the close of the 19th century, Wilhelm Reich was the son of a Jewish farmer, but was deprived of his heritage by parents who raised their children as “Austrians’” a nationalistic, rather than religious, identity. After a complicated childhood and his parents’ deaths, young Reich joined the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI.

After the war, Reich enrolled in law school at the University of Vienna, but switched to medical studies early on. At the time, a renaissance of inquiry into human nature was beginning. After attending a talk by Sigmund Freud, then a lecturer in neurology, Reich took a job at the Freud’s Vienna Ambulatorium, an experimental psychoanalytic clinic, soon earning the role of assistant director. Biographers have referred to Reich as Freud’s wunderkind, or his prodigy. 

Reich, Freud, and Psychoanalysis

Most of the clinic’s capacity was directed toward treating patients suffering from post-war trauma — then called “shell shock.” Based on this experience, Freud began developing his famous theories of id, ego, superego, the Oedipal complex, and various diagnoses based on unconscious sexual drives. But Reich took exception, believing that patients were suffering from mental diseases caused by trauma, deprivation, poverty, and childhood abuse.

For the early Viennese psychoanalysts under Freud, neurotic and anti-social conditions were always about unconscious sexual impulses in some way or another — sublimation, denial, or obsession. But Reich saw environmental and circumstantial stress as far more significant than Freud’s psychoanalytic theories — a widow struggling to feed her children during the post-war famine was far more likely to be mentally afflicted by the demands of survival than by an unresolved sexual urge.

Reich took up women’s rights as a cause, campaigning for legal contraception and financial relief for impoverished women.  He wanted to eliminate arranged marriages and fought to decriminalize homosexuality, always basing arguments on his scientific theory and research. Believing that much social dysfunction was the product of religious dogma, Reich argued against the combined church and state under Kaiser Wilhelm II’s rulership. Thus began Reich’s lifelong role as a lightning rod for institutional medical, scientific, and legal fury.

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Wilhelm Reich

Discovery of “Orgone” Energy

In 1924 Reich published his theories connecting sexuality and well-being, arguing that the ideal development of human potential and character is dependant on healthy sexual relationships built on deep trust and ego surrender. From this perspective, Reich identified human “orgone” bioenergy, asserting this was the source of all life. The psychoanalytic community, rejecting his theories as absurd, called him “the prophet of the better orgasm,” according to biographer Myron Sharaf. From this point on, Reich would be dogged by controversy, official scrutiny, and smear campaigns.

Reich’s unshakable belief in the potency of human sexual bio-energy would drive his research and haunt him the rest of his life. His unapologetic foray into human sexuality science was unthinkable in post-Victorian culture, fraught with repressive taboos and frantic avoidance of sexual dynamics and politics. Eventually, Reich recognized this orgone energy as the same principle as chi, prana, and the divine creative force that enlivens all existence. His successful orgone experiments drew relentless attacks from academics, the press, and law enforcement, ultimately leading to his suspicious death while serving a two-year prison sentence for violation of an FDA injunction.

Flight to Scandinavia

Reich was under attack from the growing Nazi party as well as the Russian Stalinists. His books had been burned in Germany, and he was reportedly on death lists in both countries. Publicly denouncing the Nazis as “sexual psychopaths” didn’t help. Driven out of the International Psychoanalytic Organization, and now considered a madman by his colleagues, Reich sought intellectual refuge in England, Denmark and Sweden, but didn’t find safe haven until 1934 in Norway. He continued to search for the connection between biology and electrical energy, his “orgone” principal.

But eventually Reich provoked his Norwegian peers to the point where they refused to endorse him for a visa extension — it must have been powerful provocation, as Norwegians traditionally take pride in their tolerant, humanistic views. Reich pushed back, and his visa was extended on the condition that he stopped practicing his unorthodox brand of psychotherapy which involved massage — touching a patient was unforgivable sin in Freud’s nascent community.

Reich’s Orgone Accumulator Box

America, Orgone Accumulators, Aliens and Cloud Busters

In his book “Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich,” Myron Sharaf notes that Reich left Norway on the last departing boat prior to the official start to WWII in 1939. A friend and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University had arranged a teaching position for Reich at The New School in Manhattan.

Reich’s orgone research continued. Noticing a blue color in his microbiology experiments, he believed he was observing radiation, so he built a specialized Faraday cage, or box, to trap and study the energy. Constructed of metal and layered with cotton batting or wool, Reich’s box had unexpected properties — if he put his hand in the box he felt warmth and energy, as did others. Eventually he learned that his box didn’t just trap this energy — it intensified it. Cancerous mice, when placed in the box, improved, and seedlings showed atypical growth rates.

Reich concluded that this life energy force, or orgone, was blue, if seen under specific conditions. Modern Reich advocates believe that images of earth from space, with its thin blue halo, the blue haze seen around waterfalls, and the Northern Lights are all evidence of orgone energy, the fundamental life force.

Reich landed in trouble after claiming that the box cured cancer — in 1941, he was arrested by the FBI after claiming his box had saved several people. He also lost his position at the New School. Although no charges were made, Reich was held until January, 1941. Apparently this was a case of mistaken identity, as a New Jersey resident, William Reich, was distributing Communist literature through his bookstore, and was the FBI’s actual target.

Orgonon and Public Scandal

With help from supporters and advocates, Reich was able to buy a Maine farm in 1942. Over time, he constructed a lab and an observatory. By 1950, he was living there full-time with his second wife, their son, and Reich’s daughter from his first marriage. He named the farm Orgonon, and attracted medical doctors and scientists interested in his theories.

While Reich’s public perception had been relatively positive, things changed in 1947. An article explaining that the word “orgone” was derived from “orgasm,” was printed in a national publication, and for the remainder of his life, Reich would be targeted by relentless smear campaigns. The press, eager to offer juicy controversy to consumers, re-interpreted his ideas, reported that in Reich’s view, cancer and psychological disorders were caused by lack of orgasms.

The orgone accumulator boxes were investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rumors of aberrant sexual activity with patients and children began to proliferate; his marriage ended in 1951 due to his growing paranoia.

In 1954, injunctions were filed by the State of Maine with the FDA and FTC, demanding that Reich stop shipping his orgone boxes and any related sales literature. It would be these injunctions that would lead to Reich’s demise.

Reich and his “Cloud Buster” that he used to save a Maine blueberry crop.

Trial, Prison and Death

While he was in the West, an employee back in Maine fell into a trap by shipping a part for the orgone accumulator box out of state in violation of the injunctions. The “customer” requesting the part was in fact an FDA inspector.

Reich was charged with contempt of court after the violation, and pleaded not-guilty, but was sentenced to two years in prison in May of 1956. After unsuccessfully appealing the verdict, Reich entered the prison system in Spring of 1957.  He landed in the Pennsylvania Lewisburg Federal Prison just before his 60th birthday. Soon after, FDA officials were dispatched to Reich’s Maine home and oversaw the destruction of the remaining accumulators and all of Reich’s books and marketing materials. In August, Reich’s books, research papers, notes, and journals were shipped to New York City and burned.

Reich believed he would be paroled in November of that year, but was found dead in his cell on Nov. 3. Cause of death was recorded as sudden heart failure — his body was returned to his Maine farm for burial.

Legacy

Because of Reich’s prodigious work and vision, we have light-based microscopy, biofeedback, body-based psychology and therapies, and human sexuality research. The Wilhelm Reich museum in Rangeley, ME houses what remains of Reich’s research and surviving books, including those re-published posthumously.

While Reich’s foray into the relationship between healthy sexuality, mental hygiene, and holistic wellbeing were viewed as outlandish in his day, his discoveries have influenced everything from bodywork modalities such as Rolfing, to modern advertising which discovered the power of sex to sell products. And while he would have vigorously objected, he became known as the “Father of Free Love” post-1967.

Orgone and Desertification

During his life, Reich discovered that orgone energy has an affinity for water and humidity — this may relate to precipitation and negative, or healthy, ions found near flowing water and during rainstorms. Viewing desertification as the result of “bad” or deadly orgone energy (DOR), Reich asserted that harsh desert environments produce brutal, warlike cultures driven by scarcity.  Desertification brings drought, famine, mass starvation, and intense competition for resources, leading to ruthless aggression and “tribal” attitudes of “us vs. them.”

In the 1970s, a young graduate student, James DeMeo, learned about Reich’s work. His advisor gave him the green light to study Reich’s theories. DeMeo was able to confirm several of Reich’s ideas, particularly his atmospheric research. By examining anthropological data, particularly attitudes toward women and children, DeMeo saw that arid climates are indeed associated with predatory, militaristic societies. Typically these groups assign women the same status as livestock or other property and use captives of war as slaves. Noble status and warriorship are one in the same. By plotting these cultures by latitude and longitude, he discovered that the harsher the desert environment, the more aggressive the group.

The heartlands of these cultures are North Africa (Sahara), the Middle East (the Anatolian Plateau and the Arabian, Al Nafud, and Karakum Deserts)  and the desert regions of China and Mongolia (The Gobi, Taklimakan, Badain Jaran, Shapotou, and Gurbantungget Deserts) — the birthplaces of Genghis Khan’s armies. Called “The Golden Horde,” these armies swarmed out of the Mongolian deserts, conquered China, and invaded Eastern Europe, pushing all the way to the Austrian border. While in Africa, peaceful sub-saharan societies have long been assaulted by desert warrior cultures, there are significant exceptions to the theory, such as the Sahrawi tribes that place women in positions of privilege.

Studying the archaeological record, DeMeo saw that evidence of violent regional wars drops off around 4,000 BCE — roughly same time as the beginning of encroaching desertification. DeMeo noted that even if rainfall increases and an area recovers, ruthless social values of survival at any cost remain. But Reich believed that rain produced by his cloud busters in these regions would end drought, starvation and famine, thus reducing warfare and stress on native populations.

While he conclusively documented that a cloudbuster caused statistically improbable rainfall in the Arizona desert and across the state of Kansas, DeMeo couldn’t fund large-scale demonstrations of cloud busters in vast desert regions — in fact, he left academia when his peers and colleagues refused to acknowledge his smaller successes. Despite academic conflicts, DeMeo and his cloud buster began to receive invitations to drought and famine-plagued countries.

Drought Busting

In 1991, DeMeo was invited to Israel during a three-year drought — the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary agricultural water source, was depleted to the point that irrigation water would soon be gone. After ten days of using the cloud buster, the rain started and didn’t stop. Snow fell in Jerusalem for the first time in living memory. The Sea of Galilee filled, then overflowed — to avoid flooding, water was diverted to the Dead Sea, unheard of in this intensely arid region. DeMeo says the meteorological community would not accept his results, saying that the Mt. Pinatubo eruption was the cause of the precipitation that ended the drought.   

In 1993 DeMeo accepted an invitation from the government of the newly-formed Eritrea near Ethiopia. The region had suffered a 30-year drought with ensuing famine, wars, and refugee crisis. “We went into the desert and ended a 30-year drought. It’s clearly documented in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) records. What we saw was rain for the first time in 30-years. We got it all on video. Immense rainfall rather than isolated storms — big cloud fronts that would make it rain all day long.”

DeMeo said that he and his team were invited back to work for an additional three years. “The year before we began, Eritrea spent $150 million on food imports. The year after, food import expenses dropped to $10 million.” Unfortunately Ethiopia invaded Eritrea, destroying the cloud buster equipment, which resembled artillery with the skyward-pointed aluminum tubes.

DeMeo says that the effects of cloudbusting are not dependent on the device — once it has been used in a programmatic way, new weather patterns persist. “Clouds build and propagate outward,” DeMeo said. The technology is so powerful that without careful application, destructive storms and flooding can be triggered. “It’s like Pandora’s box,” he said.

Did Reich invent a technology that could effectively end drought, famine, and wars provoked by resource scarcity? Perhaps, but as with other suppressed technologies, the cloudbuster has been attacked by economic interests that profit from drought. “Hydrologists are given multi-million dollar contracts for water desalination projects around the world — the cloud seeders are also against this work. I tried to introduce this work to the California state legislature, but lobbyists for the cloud seeding industry killed it,” DeMeo said.

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