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

Orgone energy is a theory originally proposed in the 1930s by Wilhelm Reich.[1] Reich, originally part of Sigmund Freud's Vienna circle, extrapolated the Freudian concept of libido first as a biophysical and later as a universal life force.[2] In its final conception, developed by Reich's student Charles Kelly after Reich's death, Orgone was conceived as the anti-entropic principle of the universe, a 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] Orgone was seen as a massless, omnipresent substance, similar to luminiferous aether, but more closely associated with living energy than inert matter. It could coalesce to create organization on all scales, from the smallest microscopic units—called bions in orgone theory—to macroscopic structures like organisms, clouds, or even galaxies.[3]

Reich's theories held that deficits or constrictions in bodily orgone were at the root of many diseases - and in particular cancer - similar to the way in which deficits or constrictions in the libido could produce neuroses in Freudian theory. He created the Orgone Institute to pursue research into orgone energy after he emmigrated to the US, and used it to publish literature and distribute material relating to the topic for more than a decade. Reich designed special "orgone accumulators" - devices which ostensibly collected orgone energy from the atmosphere - for purposes as diverse as improvement of general health, increase sexual potency, and weather control.[4] Ultimately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) obtained a federal injunction barring the interstate distribution of orgone-related materials, on the grounds that Reich and his associates were making false and misleading claims, and later jailed Reich and destroyed all orgone-related materials at the institute after Reich violated the injunction.[5]

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.[6] There is no empirical support for the concept of orgone in medicine or the physical sciences, and research into the concept ceased with the end of the Institute.[7]



The concept of orgone belongs to Reich's later work, after he immigrated to the US. Reich's early work was based on the Freudian concept of the libido, though influenced by sociological understandings with which Freud disagreed but which were to some degree followed by other prominent theorists such as Herbert Marcuse and Carl Jung. 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 workers' 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.[8] He was expelled from the Institute of Psycho-analysis because of these disagreements over the nature of the libido and his increasingly political stance. He was forced to leave Germany very soon after Hitler came to power.[9]

Reich with one of his cloudbusters, which he said could manipulate streams of orgone to produce rain.

Reich took an increasingly bioenergetic view of libido, perhaps influenced by his tutor Paul Kammerer and another biologist, Otto Warburg.[10] 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."[11]

The concept of orgone was the result of this work in the psycho-physiology of libido. After his migration 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] This led him to the conception of "bions": self-luminescent sub-cellular vesicles visible he believed were observable in decaying materials, and presumably present universally. Initially he thought of bions as electrodynamic or radioactive entities, as had the Ukrainian biologist Alexander Gurwitsch, but later came to the conclusion 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 *ὄργον, gen.: *ὄργοντος).[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Orgone and its related concepts were quickly denounced in the post-World War II American press.[16] 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[17] and denunciation under a wide variety of other pretexts.[18] He was, as the New York Times later put it, "much maligned".[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[2][21][22][23]

Some of Reich's observations have been replicated by other researchers. Stefan Müschenich, in an unpublished Master's thesis, 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.[24] 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,[24][25][26] 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 fitted 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 his daughter, J.D. Salinger would sometimes use an orgone accumulator, among an assortment of other alternative health regimens.[27]

Orson Bean

Noted American actor Orson Bean was once a proponent of orgone therapy and published a well-received book about it entitled Me and the Orgone.

Dušan Makavejev

Dušan Makavejev opened his 1971 satirical film W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism with documentary coverage of Reich and his development of orgone accumulators, combining this with other imagery and a fictional sub-plot in a collage mocking sexual and political authorities.[28] Scenes include one of only "ten or fifteen orgone boxes left in the country" at that time.[29]


British space rockers Hawkwind released the track "Orgone Accumulator" as the first track on side three of the 1972 live album, Space Ritual.

I've got an Orgone Accumulator
It makes me feel greater
I'll see you sometime later
When I'm through with my Accumulator

It's no social integrator
It's a one man isolator
It's a back brain stimulator
It's a cerebral vibrator

...But an Orgone Accumulator
Is a superman creator

Kate Bush

The song "Cloudbusting" by British singer Kate Bush describes Reich's arrest and incarceration through the eyes of his son, Peter.[30]


The new wave '80s band Devo claimed that their iconic energy dome design was used to recycle the wasted orgone energy that flows from a person's head. Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh has said,

'We did the red energy dome, which was useful—besides being an icon -- it was a useful icon. You probably know this very well, but your orgone energy goes out the top of your head and it dissipates out the top, but if you wear an energy dome it recycles that energy. It comes back down and showers back down on you and, among other things, you remain manly, shall we say, for maybe another 150 years of your life, probably. I think that's a safe prediction to say that energy domes -- if you wore them constantly, night and day -- which I don't do, but there are people out there who do, not too many of them but there are some. We get e-mails from them, so we know they're out there, those people will probably live about an extra 150 years because of all that orgone energy that they're saving and not wasting away.'[31]

Evelyn Waugh

An orgone accumulator plays an important role in the semi-autobiographical Evelyn Waugh novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. A neighbour to Mr Pinfold owns a box and with it he experiments on Mr Pinfold's wife. Later, in a hallucinatory state, Mr Pinfold imagines that his problems have originated from that box.

Warren Leight

Warren Leight's play, Side Man, contains a scene where Gene and Terry receive an orgone box that Gene's friend's wife made him get rid of.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Charles R. Kelley Ph.D., "What is Orgone Energy?" 1962
  2. ^ a b Martin Gardner (1957), "Chapter 21: Orgonomy", Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Popular Science (2, revised, abbreviated ed.), Courier Dover Publications, p. 253, ISBN 0486203948, 9780486203942, 
  3. ^ "orgone energy", The Skeptic's Dictionary, 
  4. ^ Robert Blumenfeld (2006), "Chapter 6. Willian Reich and Character Analysis", Tools and techniques for character interpretation: a handbook of psychology for actors, writers, and directors, Limelight Series, Hal Leonard Corporation, pp. 135–137, ISBN 0879103264, 9780879103262, 
  5. ^ "Orgone Energy - Wilhelm Reich and the Orgone Accumulator". Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  6. ^ "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".
  7. ^ Isaacs, K. (1999). "Searching for Science in Psychoanalysis". Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 29 (3): 235–252. doi:10.1023/A:1021973219022. "[orgone is] a useless fiction with faulty basic premises, thin partial theory, and unsubstantiated application results. It was quickly discredited and cast away." 
  8. ^ See The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Listen Little Man
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Dr. James Strick, The Historic Context of Reich’s Laboratory Work, talk quoted at
  11. ^ Quoted in Malgosia Askanas, Ph.D. Expose of the Secret and Not-so-secret misery of (An)Orgonomy and Reichianism
  12. ^ Webster's Dictionary[1]
  13. ^ Edward W. L. Smith, The Body in Psychotherapy, Macfarland, 2000.
  14. ^ A critique of Reich's experimental procedure subsequent to the discovery of SAPA bions (retrieved 10/27/09)
  15. ^ See Orgone experiment with Einstein
  16. ^ Mildred Brady, The New Cult of Sex & Anarchy, article in The New Republic printed 1947
  17. ^ "Wilhelm Reich". NNDB. Retrieved June 2008. 
  18. ^ Norman D. Livergood, America, Awake!, Dandelion Books (2002), p.263
  19. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (May 23, 1997). "Dr. Myron Ruscoll Sharaf, 70, Educator and Psychotherapist". New York Times. 
  20. ^ Richard Grossinger (1982). Planet Medicine: From Stone Age Shamanism to Post-industrial Healing (revised ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 293. ISBN 0394712382. 
  21. ^ a b "Decree of injunction order (March 19, 1954) by Judge Clifford". 
  22. ^ Gardner, Martin. On the Wild Side. Prometheus Books. 
  23. ^ Lugg, A. (1987). Bunkum, Flim-Flam and Quackery: Pseudoscience as a Philosophical Problem. Dialectica, 41(3), 221-230.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ DeMeo, J.: "The Orgone Accumulator Handbook," Natural Energy, 1989
  27. ^ Most of my father’s health regimens, such as drinking urine or sitting in an orgone box, he practised alone. Homeopathy and acupuncture he practised on us."My father J D Salinger". The Times (London). February 6, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  28. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 15, 2007). "WR -- Mysteries of the Organism :: :: Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  29. ^ Morris, Gary (July 2011). "Bright Lights Film Journal :: Sweet Movies: Four by Dusan Makavejev". Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  30. ^ Moy, Ron (September 30, 2007). Kate Bush and Hounds of Love. Ashgate. pp. 99. ISBN 0754657981. 
  31. ^ "Mark Mothersbaugh Interview". FECAL FACE DOT COM. Fecal Face. 3 January 2008. 

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • orgone — ☆ orgone [ôr′gōn΄ ] n. 〚coined by W. Reich (1897 1957), Austrian psychiatrist in the U.S., prob. /span> ORG(ASM) + one, as in OZONE〛 a postulated energy permeating the universe, the personal supply of which an individual suffering from various… …   Universalium

  • orgone — ☆ orgone [ôr′gōn΄ ] n. [coined by W. Reich (1897 1957), Austrian psychiatrist in the U.S., prob. < ORG(ASM) + one, as in OZONE] a postulated energy permeating the universe, the personal supply of which an individual suffering from various… …   English World dictionary

  • Orgone — L orgone est un terme inventé par le psychiatre et psychanalyste Wilhelm Reich pour désigner une forme hypothétique d « énergie » dont il affirmait avoir établi l’existence. Ses résultats ne furent jamais reproduits et la théorie de l… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • orgone — or·gó·ne s.m. TS psic. nella teoria dello psicoanalista austriaco W. Reich (1897 1957), particella elementare universalmente presente, che svolgerebbe una funzione importante nel comportamento umano, spec. sessuale {{line}} {{/line}} DATA: 1953.… …   Dizionario italiano

  • orgone — noun Usage: often attributive Etymology: German Orgon, from Orgasmus orgasm and organisch organic + on 2 on Date: 1942 a vital energy held to pervade nature and be a factor in health in the theories of Wilhelm Reich …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • orgone — noun /ˈɔːɡəʊn/ in the theories of , a supposed excess sexual energy distributed throughout the universe and available for collection, storage, and further use , 1959: So, boys, when those hot licks play over your balls and prick and dart up your… …   Wiktionary

  • orgone — n. vital energy form or universal life force existing in all living things and the atmosphere that allegedly can be captured with a device and used to restore psychological welfare or treat illnesses or control the weather (first described by Dr …   English contemporary dictionary

  • orgone — [ ɔ:gəʊn] noun a supposed excess sexual energy or life force distributed throughout the universe which can be collected and stored for subsequent therapeutic use. Origin 1940s: coined by the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, from organism or… …   English new terms dictionary

  • orgone — or·gone …   English syllables

  • orgone — ˈȯrˌgōn noun ( s) Etymology: probably from orgasm + one (as in hormone) : a vital energy held to pervade nature and to be accumulable for use by the human body by sitting in a specially designed box …   Useful english dictionary