Historical Background

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957)


Reich, a medical doctor, began his analytical career in Vienna, the birthplace of psychoanalysis. He was one of the main figures alongside Freud in the early development of the field. Freud originally believed a physically real force powered the psychic drives (Freud, 1893). Reich, throughout his varied studies, consistently enquired into the nature of this force, first elucidated by his mentor, Freud.

In 1922, as a young analyst, Reich began to chart a new connection between sexual dysfunction, specifically the inability to feel pleasure, and neurosis. By 1935, Reich had thoroughly examined his ideas using his analytical experience, bio-electrical experiments and microbiological studies. He believed he had found a new and fundamental pleasure-pain antithesis in all life. This pleasure-pain duality could be seen in all organisms, from amoebas to humans.

Reich correlated pleasure with expansion of energy and pain with contraction of energy. This contrast creates a universal characteristic of energy pulsation. Reich further noted that the biological pulsation of energy has four component beats:





He called this the Life Formula. He first claimed to have discovered a concrete, scientific basis for the existence of a universal life-force in January 1939. Reich termed this force orgone, meaning literally 'organic pulsation'. Reich invented simple passive devices to accumulate this orgone (orgone accumulators) in which patients could sit. In later years, he developed further devices to move orgone in the environment (Cloud-busters) and to remove stagnant orgone from the body (Medical Dor-busters – DOR being short for Deadly ORgone, or stagnant life-force).

Throughout his career, Reich consistently studied the movement of biological energy. His studies were firstly in the psychic, then the emotional, and finally in the physical realm. As Reich (1942:9) said,

'The biological emotions which govern the psychic processes are themselves the direct expression of a strictly physical energy.'

There are two aspects that made Reich's work ground-breaking. Firstly, his insistence that he had easily repeatable, unambiguous, scientific evidence for the existence of life-force. Secondly, that this newly discovered energy was primarily sexual in nature. His theories had repercussions in many areas from mental health to politics, from psychoanalysis to medicine, and in all the physical sciences.

Freud, Reich's first mentor, later changed his own emphasis, stating that psychic energy was in fact intangible. Reich's work however challenged this belief. Reich called into doubt the existence of certain 'drives’ that had become central to Freudian theory. The ‘death' drive and other destructive drives were thought by Freud to explain humankind’s destructive tendencies. Destructive drives were thought to be innate human characteristics on a par with the sexual drive. Reich believed that these destructive drives did not exist and were not innate characteristics. Reich thought that destructive impulses were rather a reaction against society's repression of life-force. Reich thought that destructiveness is created by the struggle of life-force to break through emotional and physical 'armouring'. This term describes an 'armoured' muscular and simultaneously emotional/psychic barrier. This barrier serves originally as a protection against pain or fear. However, once the armouring is in place it changes the whole equilibrium of the organism. The birth of destructive tendencies due to reaction against armouring in Reichian theory has similarities with the emotional effects of liver qistagnation in TCM zang futheory. This parallel has already been outlined in detail by Mann (1973) and Hallsteinsen (1986), and will be illustrated later in this article.

Reich’s work antagonised the Russian Marxists, the German Fascists and later the bureaucrats of 1950s' USA (1). Reich was imprisoned for two years on an obscure legal technicality that had been overlooked by one of his co-workers. Reich died unexpectedly in a prison in New Jersey just before his parole date. He had suffered many years of illegal and unconstitutional persecution from the American authorities. His books were officially burnt in Communist Russia, pre-WWII Germany and the USA (as recently as 1962). Many tons of scholarly books were disposed of in the USA, many of them having little reference to the offending orgone concept.

The orgone tests of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1950s' USA were reviewed in the paper. Their conclusions, which were dismissive of the existence of orgone, were based on highly circumstantial and flawed evidence. Since the release of documents pertaining to the FDA orgone testing, under the USA’s Freedom of Information Act, a number of scholarly articles and book chapters have been written which criticise the almost complete lack of proper scientific process applied by the FDA in these tests. Blasband and Rosenblum (1972) conducted the most thorough appraisal of the FDA testing and concluded that the FDA failed to replicate any of Reich's experimental set-ups, preferring to invent their own tests. It is a basic tenet of science that testing of new experimental findings should repeat the experimental conditions of the original scientist. FDA scientists consulted neither Reich, nor his writings (Sharaf, 1983). The FDA tests used inappropriate conditions that Reich had specifically excluded from his experiments (Demeo, 1989 b); for example: siting orgone accumulators next to X-ray machines; placing accumulators indoors when they should be outdoors (in order to test certain effects); inadequate or absent control procedures (the medical tests had no controls at all). They failed to record environmental conditions that were vital to the experiments. Proper records were not kept.

In the medical patient tests, the methods used were completely unacceptable scientifically. Patients in these tests were exposed to orgone devices for a few minutes for a few days at most in a haphazard and arbitrary manner. Despite all of the above omissions the FDA testing still found many occurrences which were not explicable in terms of conventional science; for example: negative temperature differentials between orgone accumulators and control boxes, ionisation changes in accumulators and reports of unusual sensations from patients in orgone tests (Sharaf, 1983). The FDA either ignores these inconsistencies or contradicts itself in different reports (Sharaf, 1983). Additionally, the FDA, for no given reason, abandoned their testing of the Reich Blood Test (which measures the bio-energetic strength of blood samples). Some of the data from this test have revealed strong favourable results supporting Reich's claims of structural and energetic changes in the blood of cancer patients (Blasband and Rosenblum, 1972). The author has been unable to find any scientifically valid evidence to dismiss Reich's claims.

There is positive evidence supporting the existence of orgone from three double blind, placebo-controlled medical experiments. Two were undertaken in Germany and Austria (Gebauer and Muschenich, 1987, and Hebenstreit, 1995 respectively). In these experiments, patients were sat in either an orgone accumulator cabinet or a thermally matched, identical looking, placebo cabinet. Standard double blind procedures were adhered to. The accumulator sessions showed statistically significant differences to the placebo sessions (P >0.01, N = 21 in the Gebauer and Muschenich, 1987 Marburg University Study). These experiments support Reich’s assertions for a biological life-force and its enlivening and regulating effect upon the pulse, temperature, skin and other body systems. Lastly, there is a third double blind, palcebo controlled experiment which Leon Southgate (2002) undertook which demonstrated a statistically significant, objective effect by orgone devices upon the acupuncture process, see here.

Demeo, an American scientist, has undertaken many controlled orgone experiments and published university papers that support the existence of orgone. Amongst Demeo's papers, evidence for the effects of orgone within the environment (Demeo, 1979) and on plants (Demeo, 2002 a) can be found. An extensive bibliography of Orgonomic science is also available online (Demeo 1996). The two main Orgonomic journals are the Pulse of the Planet (Oregon, USA) published by Demeo's orgonelab and the Journal of Orgonomy (New York, USA) published by the American College of Orgonomy.

Bions and Orgone


Reich was curious whether the pleasure-pain antithesis he had noted in his psychoanalytical clients (expansion/pleasure - contraction/pain) existed in all life. He wanted to examine pulsation processes in microscopic organisms in order to confirm or invalidate his theories. Reich also wondered about the origins of microbes. He was not satisfied with Pasteur’s explanation (every germ from a germ). This dissatisfaction was partly because he could not find sufficient germ 'spores' in the air to account for the many infections he saw as a doctor. These two reasons, testing the expansion-contraction hypothesis and doubts regarding the biogenesis of microbes, compelled Reich to study high-magnification live microscopy. It had to be 'live' microscopy as Reich wanted to study the actual living processes within micro-organisms. Live microscopy at high magnifications was very unusual in Reich's time. Even today, with advanced laser microscopic techniques, mainstream biology tends to rely upon dead and stained tissue at low magnifications. It is almost as though some mainstream researchers do not want to see reality. Alternative researchers have used high-powered live microscopes at magnifications of between 2000 and 5000x. There are many published papers claiming to repeat Reich's bion work and which detail photographs of bions. Demeo and Senf have published a German language book which gathers together much of the recent bion evidence (Demeo/Senf, 1997). See also the online bibliography for individual English language articles about Bions (Demeo, 1996). There are some minor objections to using live microscopy at such high magnifications (small loss of structural detail), but recent improvements in technology and the fact that even electron microscopes may create illusory artefacts, lessens these minor objections.

After many months spent studying how grass breaks down in water(looking for evidence of the germ spores), Reich believed he had discovered a new type of microscopic vesicle that may be halfway between matter and life (there is discussion on how to classify them). He termed this vesicle a bion. A bion is minute. Live microscopic examination above 2000 magnification is required to observe them (Demeo, 1989 a). Bions are thought to develop from inert and even sterilised matter. Essentially, it is thought that if one takes any organic matter and subjects this material to a cooking and cooling process, then small vesicles will eventually emerge with lifelike properties (Demeo, 1989 a). This is the case even if completely sterile material is used and the 'cooking' process involves ultra-high temperatures that would kill all micro-organisms. The type of bion produced by a material appears to depend on its energetic and structural qualities. Food or sea-sand when subjected to a bionous 'cooking' process tends to produce blue coloured spherical bions called sapa-bions (meaning Sand Packet Bion). The blood of cancer patients can be subjected to a bionous process and this tends to produce smaller dark, rod shaped bions called t-bacilli (T is the first letter of ‘Tod’, the German word for death). Sapa-bions and t-bacilli are antagonistic and neutralise each other. Whatever the type of bion that is created they tend to emerge in certain common shapes, most often, in the 'orgonome' shape, as Reich termed it, which is similar in form to a kidney or a bean. Bions then later differentiate into spherical or rod shapes and can also combine and develop into simple structures such as protozoa.

Bion or organism creation from non-living matter (spontaneous generation) is denied by Western science. Reich's findings are ascribed to molecular motion of particles (Brownian motion) or to microbe contamination (Kreyberg, 1938). Both of these objections were countered by Reich's own controlled experiments (Reich, 1938) and by recent published work (Demeo/Senf, 1997). The author has witnessed bion experiments and is convinced of their reality. Brownian motion would not explain the very life-like pulsating, moving and consumption processes seen in bions, nor would microbe contamination explain the bions’ appearance in thoroughly sterile preparations. There are live video footage of bions being created on Youtube or see the UK research website of Peter Jones who has a primary interest in Reich's bions, www.orgonomyuk.org.uk.


It was a type of bion, the sapa-bion that led Reich to discover orgone. The sapa-bion appeared to emit a strong radiation that hurt the eyes and led to tanning of the skin. Reich tried to contain the bion radiation by using metal and then organic enclosures. Reich failed to isolate the radiation but in so doing discovered that the radiation could be accumulated from the atmosphere itself. He found that the metal bion enclosures continued to accumulate an unknown energy even when the bion samples were removed. On the other hand, the organic bion enclosures appeared to attract and then absorb the bion radiation. Using this knowledge, Reich found that by repeatedly layering metal and organic materials with the metallic layer innermost, the atmospheric radiation or energy was strengthened. Orgone accumulators are made from metal and organic materials layered in this way.

Orgone appears to be similar in its definition to that of qi in TCM theory. A single, biological and cosmic energy gives rise to form and is the motivating force of life. Various observations of phenomena associated with the orgone accumulators have been used to support the validity of the concept of orgone energy, some of which are listed by Demeo (1989 a), for example:

Higher air temperature

Higher electrostatic potential

Slower electrostatic discharge rates

Higher humidity

Ionisation effects

Effects on electromagnetism.

Orgone researchers also claim a general expansive and regulating effect on biological systems (Gebauer and Muschenich, 1987). Demeo claims the orgone energy can, under laboratory conditions, be directly seen, felt, measured and photographed (Demeo, 1989 a).


Senf (1989), a German professor, was the first to explore orgone and acupuncture and developed the term, orgone-acupuncture. Senf's pioneering work first related the two medical approaches in the late 1980s. His study found an effect by orgone devices on acupuncture. Based on Reich's principles he designed an orgone energising tube and an energy withdrawing tube. In the study these devices were directed toward various acupuncture points that were selected according to TCM diagnosis. Eighty-five of his hundred volunteers reported strong associated effects.

1 Reich believed there was also a communist plot against his work. Recent evidence may support this view as some of the principle instigators of Reich's persecution in the USA appear to have been covert communists with links to Soviet moles in the US and UK. (Martin 2000).