The 2005 conference at Orgonon, four miles west of Rangeley, Maine, was entitled “Wilhelm Reich & Orgone Energy: Looking Back, Moving Forward”. The conference began on Monday, July 18th. The first speaker was Dr. James Strick.
Dr. Strick is an assistant professor of science at Franklin and Marshall College who has published two books of note, Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation and The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology. He specializes in the history of science, and his talk that morning was entitled “The Historic Context of Reich’s Laboratory Work: From Biomedical Research of the 1930s to the Present Day”. Dr. Strick introduced his talk with a question: why do Reich’s theories sound so foreign in the context of mainstream biology and medicine? He answered this by describing the context in which Reich’s theories emerged and the various approaches scientists were taking toward biology and medicine at that time.
According to Dr. Strick, by the late 1920s the casual observer (with an eye toward Reich’s work) would note three approaches: 1) that of the mechanistic mainstream which was already emerging as the dominant approach. This approach looks at the body, basically, as a machine, i.e., it is governed by chemical and biological processes in which all things are explained in mechanistic terms in the same manner that mainstream science explains nonliving systems; 2) neo-vitalism which was then dominated by theories of Hans Driesch and posited that living things are governed by an “entelechy”, i.e., a force not accessible to mechanistic laboratory investigations; and 3) Reich’s approach which was looking to develop a synthesis of the mechanistic mainstream and neo-vitalistic approaches.
In time, the gap between Reich’s approach and that of the mechanistic mainstream widened. Dr. Strick pointed out two major discoveries of Reich’s which led to this: 1) the discovery of bions in 1939 and the discovery of atmospheric orgone in 1940. In light of these discoveries, the connections between Reich’s approach and that of the mechanistic mainstream had become difficult to see. This gap widened even further in 1953 with the publication of Watson and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA and the turn toward overwhelmingly molecular approaches by the mainstream.
At this point, Dr. Strick backed up a bit and explained the foundations of Reich’s approach—which, in time, developed into the science of orgonomy. Dr. Strick stated that Reich had drawn upon the following research approaches:
- Freud’s libido theory, i.e., the idea that there is a specific sexual energy.
- the theories of various schools that represent non-mechanistic versions of materialism (especially dialectical materialism).
- opposition to over-simplistic Mendelian genetics, i.e., the idea that everything—including behavior and disposition—is inherited, and inherited by simple Mendelian patterns. Dr. Strick argued that Mendelian genetics was strongly influenced by the eugenics movement which was strong not only in Nazi Germany but also in the United States (e.g. Margaret Sanger successfully courted the eugenics movement in order to gain support for the birth control movement which she championed). Dr. Strick also remarked on neo-Lamarckianism, the last prominent advocate of which was Paul Kammerer, an instructor of Reich’s at the medical school in Vienna. It was noted that neo-Lamarckianism was more popular with the Left in Austria (as opposed to the eugenics movement which tried to tie—via Mendelian genetics—sloth, alcoholism, prostitution, etc. to inherited genetic traits). Paul Kammerer’s ideas were later bastardized in the theories of the Soviet geneticist T.D. Lysenko—a scientist basically ignored in the West after denouncing Mendelian genetics as “reactionary and decadent” at a Russian conference in 1948, i.e., he was espousing dialectical materialist biology.
- energeticist/“field” theories in embryology, especially for the understanding of cell mitosis. Dr. Strick pointed out that Gurvitch had proposed that mitosis is governed by a type of radiation which he called “mitogenetic radiation” (these theories later came into play when Reich experimented with bion cultures, specifically the SAPA-bion cultures). Gurvitch’s theories greatly influenced Reich’s theories of bioenergetics. The theory of “relative sexuality” developed by Max Hartmann provided further support for his view that sexual attraction was a bioelectric phenomenon. Hartmann had published a paper on the subject in 1931 that Reich read in 1933. Dr. Strick argued that Reich’s interest in energeticist theories was further bolstered by the concept of conservation of energy. Reich wondered that if heat can be converted to electricity, then what was going on at the biological level. Was there some other type of energy, perhaps something analogous to libido energy that Freud had described? However, although there had been early advocates of a specific biological energy (i.e. Kammerer and Benjamin Moore), by 1939, Reich was one of a very small minority in his interest in understanding these energetic phenomena. Another scientist that influenced Reich’s thoughts on energeticism was Otto Warburg who had studied how energy is released from food. Later Warburg studied cancer cells and posited that cancer develops when cells produce energy anaerobically instead of aerobically. Finally, Dr. Strick mentioned Friedrich Kraus’s “fluid theory of life” described in a hard-to-find book published in 1926. All of the scientific thought mentioned above—which was coming out of Germany—was basically quashed with the rise of Nazi fascism or lost in WWII and its aftermath.
- origin of life studies and theories relevant to spontaneous generation would have a tremendous impact on the bion experiments. Reich had been led to this field of thought—most famously championed by Bastian in his debates with Pasteur in the late 1800s—by his own work with the bions in 1936-9.
In terms of opposition to Reich, his investigation into the origin of life compounded with his earlier advocacy of abortion rights and contraceptive rights did little to endear Reich to the mainstream. And if the above was not enough to make Reich’s theories unpopular, consider the other 50% of the equation:
- the study of the function of the orgasm.
Dr. Strick next passed out a handout in which he had sketched out a flow-chart detailing the progression of Reich’s thought and that of mainstream mechanistic materialism. Of significance, Strick pointed out, was the influence of the Rockefeller Foundation on the direction research into biology and medicine would take in the early 20th century. Warren Weaver, director of the Natural Sciences Division at the Rockefeller Foundation basically sat on the only substantial pot of money via which scientists could turn to for funding of research following the stock market crash in 1929. This meant, as Dr. Strick pointed out, that during the Depression years, unless you were able to convince Warren Weaver that your research was worth funding, you either had to finance scientific research on your own (as Reich was forced to do via his therapy practice) or go without. Weaver’s allegiances did not align with the type of work Reich was doing. He was more interested in physics, chemistry, and mechanistic biology, especially the theory of macromolecules, which led to molecular biology which, as Dr. Strick had been indicating, Reich was not necessarily in tune with. As a result, the mechanistic mainstream became the de facto mainstream and scientists like Reich, Pijper, Kraus, and Gurvitch were marginalized.
By 1939 or soon afterward, Reich had come to the realization that he was doing something totally original, i.e., that he wasn’t even being acknowledged by those who had influenced his thought. As Reich moved further from the mainstream with the discovery of atmospheric orgone in 1940, his experiments from 1940 onwards with the orgone accumulator, the discovery in 1951 of Oranur and DOR, and the invention of the cloudbuster, he had placed himself in a position that went well against the grain of conventional biology and medicine.
With the subsequent FDA injunction, Reich’s imprisonment, and the destruction of Reich’s printed works in New York City incinerators, the discoveries of Reich and his scientific approach were left to be championed by a handful of his students—a fact further complicated by the squabbles that plagued the orgonomic community after Reich’s death.
Dr. Strick concluded by stating that, at present, it would be very difficult to pick up where Reich left off. First of all, it would take an enormous amount of money. Secondly, it would go against the well-ingrained traditions of bio-mechanistic medicine and science.
On that note, Dr. Strick concluded his talk. He had definitely provided those of us in attendance with a context for understanding Reich’s work. As the conference would progress, many would share thoughts as to how orgonomy and those interested establishing its relevance within the mainstream (and in alternative medicine circles) might best move forward at this moment in time.
Dr. Bernard Grad, a biologist who had studied bions with Reich would be giving the next presentation entitled “Memories of Working with Reich: Opportunities and Obstacles for the Future of Reich’s Biological Work”. Dr. Grad had first met Reich in September of 1949. Impressed, Reich had asked Dr. Grad to stay on for a time and observe the research being conducted at Orgonon. He watched as the T – To experiment was replicated and made his first observations of atmospheric orgone energy. Still somewhat skeptical, Dr. Grad approached the fledgling science of orgonomy cautiously. He stated that he would often compare the conflicting perspectives of orgonomy and mechanistic science. For example, he pointed out that mechanistic science claimed the sky was blue due to the refraction of light in the atmosphere (blue being the shortest wavelength and thus the color that the eye sees) with that of orgonomy which stated that the sky was blue due to the presence of orgone energy which had been shown to give off a blue glow in orgone charged vacuum tubes and in the orgone accumulator. After a year of observations, Dr. Grad eventually came down on the side of orgonomy.
Dr. Grad stated that he last met with Reich in 1954 or 1955. However, his interest in the work pioneered by Reich continued. He was most taken by Reich’s work with the bions and set about attempting to replicate Reich’s experiments. Much of this experimental work was undertaken during “free time” at the lab at which he was employed. Working alone for fear of being ostracized by his colleagues, Dr. Grad carried out a number of experiments with bion cultures. He began by adding and subtracting different variables to the basic bion culturing experiments.
At this point in his presentation, Dr. Grad shared a number of slides with the attendees. Of especial interest were those of bions he had cultured via the combination of chemical compounds. Many in attendance were impressed by the bions Dr. Grad had cultured from calcium carbonate, i.e., the idea that chemicals in solution could produce bions that exhibited the same characteristics Reich had observed when working with grass infusions.
All in all, it was wonderful to hear about Reich and the activities at Orgonon during Reich’s day from someone who was there. It was also very interesting to see how one of Reich’s students moved forward with the pioneering bion experiments after Reich’s death.
I attended the afternoon session on Tuesday, July 19th. Morton Herskowitz, D.O., would be giving a talk entitled “Remembering Reich”. Dr. Herskowitz is a practicing orgone therapist in the Philadelphia area, President of the Institute for Orgonomic Science, and author of Emotional Armoring: An Introduction to Psychiatric Orgone Therapy. He began his talk with a comment about the problems inherent in taking some of Reich’s off-hand remarks too seriously. As an example he mentioned the off-hand remark Reich had made about homosexuals to Ilse Ollendorff Reich. Dr. Herskowitz recounted his own conversation with Reich on the issue and told us of the very different answer he received—an explanation that conflicted with Ilse’s account. Personally, I think Dr. Herskowitz’s point was that if someone says something that you have a question about or that conflicts with your expectations of an individual, it’s usually a good idea to ask for clarification. More specifically, it is important when examining the lives of a great thinker, like Reich (a man who was, at times, a victim of his strong opinions), to be careful about making judgments based on off-hand remarks for it is a mistake to discount an individual’s entire contribution over a single remark made off-the-cuff or taken out-of-context.
Having shared this anecdote, Dr. Herskowitz talked of his involvement with Reich by describing his first encounter with Reich’s writings: as a young medical student he had been lent a copy of The Sexual Revolution and, being profoundly impressed that he had discovered a thinker who was addressing many of the questions he had about psychoanalysis and providing elucidation and thoughtful answers, he sought out Reich with the intent of entering into therapy with him. At this time Reich was still living in Forest Hills, a somewhat affluent suburb of New York City. He recounted with humor his first impressions of Reich, of the home in Forest Hills, and how he had hoped that the interaction would focus squarely on psychoanalysis as he had doubts about Reich’s theories of orgone energy. Of course, he stated, this was a fruitless wish for when Ilse answered the door, Reich appeared in his lab coat and almost immediately asked him what he thought of orgone energy.
Dr. Hersokowitz stated that Reich was very serious during therapeutic sessions. There was no small talk. He charged fifty dollars a session. He shared humorous stories about Reich. One of the most memorable centered on a conversation about the perception some had of Reich as “crazy”. To make a point, Reich crossed the room, retrieved a rifle from the mantle, aimed it an Herskowitz, and asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?”. Caught up in the absurdity of the moment, Herskowitz began laughing. Reich replaced the rifle, his point made, and quickly instructed Herskowitz, “Now don’t ever do this with one of your patients”. This anecdote was received well by the conference attendees (though, out-of-context, it would be easy to see how such a tale might be twisted to put Reich in a bad light).
When Reich moved to Rangeley after purchasing the parcel of land he would come to call Orgonon in November of 1942, Dr. Herskowitz began making the 14-hour drive from Philadelphia to continue his therapy.
Herskowitz commented on Reich’s effective use of metaphors. As an example, he referred to the metaphor Reich used in his essay “The Emotional Plague” which first appeared as chapter 16 of Character Analysis:
The circulation of steam in the steampipes of a factory is an unquestioned precondition of the factory’s operation. However, the workers in a factory hardly give a moment’s thought to the circulation of the steam. Their attention is completely concentrated on their work. The energy engendered by the steam is “not everything” in the factory. There are other important interests, e.g., the manufacture of machines and similar things. Let us imagine that all of a sudden one or more steam valves became clogged. The flow of energy engendered by the steam would cease immediately. The pistons would stop; the wheels would no longer turn; work would be out of the question. All the workers would have to direct their attention with dispatch to the obstructed flow of steam in the pipes. All thinking would be centered on one question: how a regulated circulation of steam could be reestablished in the quickest way. Let us further imagine that some workers began to argue about this situation as follows: “This confounded theory of heat exaggerates the role of steam. Sure, it's true that steam is necessary, but it's far from being everything in this factory. Don't you see that there are other things to worry about? What about the economy?” In a breakdown like the one described, these “brainstorms” would merely be laughed at, and one would quickly attempt to eliminate the basic disturbance in the circulation of the steam before turning one's thoughts to “other things”. It would serve no purpose to consider the interests of economy when the steam valves are clogged.
This example illustrates the nature of the sexual problem in our society. The flow of biological energy, i.e., sexual energy, is disturbed in most people. The biosocial mechanism of society therefore functions poorly and sometimes not at all, and we have irrational politics, irresponsibility on the part of masses of people, biopathies, homicide—in short, the emotional plague. If all people fulfilled their natural sexual needs in a natural way, there would be little talk of the sexual problem; there would be no sexual problem. Then one would be justified in contending that there are “also other things”.
One attendee asked Dr. Herskowitz about Reich’s enthusiasm for treating psychological problems via the body, i.e., by sometimes choosing to treat the physical manifestations of character armor rather than the psychic root. The attendee wondered if orgonomy would reach a point where it was no longer necessary to talk through problems, if everything could be addressed through “body work”. Dr. Herskowitz replied that some things simply must be talked though—he specifically mentioned guilt. He did, however, attribute some of Reich’s enthusiasm for body work to the reliance of the Freudian school of thought on “excessive talk”.
Another attendee asked whether Dr. Herskowitz ever used the DOR-buster in therapy. He replied that he tried using it but abandoned it because he was a poor judge of its effectiveness.
Finally, Dr. Herskowitz was asked about his impressions of Reich’s attitude toward the FDA trial. Dr. Herskowitz stated that he thought that Reich had underestimated the judge and felt that, had Reich addressed the specific charges against him instead of taking issue with the fact that scientific research should not be judged by a court of law but rather by the scientific method, he would have won the case. However, I later had conversations with attendees that felt that Reich had taken the nobler path in defending his right to conduct scientific research. It is, of course, an interesting issue to discuss and one that perhaps further civilized debate should address. The fact is that Reich took the stand that he did, and what is done is done. It is for us to move forward upon the groundwork that Reich worked so hard to lay.
The afternoon session ended with an attendee asking both Dr. Herskowitz and Dr. Grad to share their thoughts on what it was like to be back in the conference center which, in Reich’s day, had housed the student laboratory and the orgone room in which the Oranur Experiment was carried out.
Dr. Grad recalled coming up to Orgonon after the Oranur Experiment and experiencing the conditions at that time. He mentioned that the 20-ply accumulator in which the radium needle used in the experiment had placed had been removed from the orgone room and placed in the middle of a nearby field. He talked of the negative physical reactions he experienced simply by approaching the 20-ply accumulator.
Dr. Herskowitz mentioned the fireplace and recalled a time when he and another student were disposing of dead cancer mice in the fireplace. Reich had walked in on this and, according to Herskowitz, had become extremely angered with the casual and unprofessional method of disposal. I got the impression that it was not pleasant to be around Reich when he was angry. Not pleasant at all.
On Wednesday, July 19th, Conny Huthsteiner, M.D., a psychiatric orgonomist with a private practice in Boston and the Vice President of the Institute of Orgonomic Science in addition to being on the staff and faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School would be giving a presentation with Dr. Ron Maio, professor and Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School as well as Director of the University’s Injury Research Center and Assistant Dean for Research Regulatory Affairs for the university’s medical school. Their talk was entitled “A Proposed Clinical Study to Test the Effectiveness of Orgone Blankets in the Treatment of Burns”. Dr. Huthsteiner began the talk by quickly describing the principles of ORAC construction. She then read a case history from the recently published Heilen Mit Orgonenergie by Jorgos Kavouras, M.D. The book includes over 40 case studies involving the medical use of the orgone accumulator collected over the past 25 years.
The bulk of the morning session was presented by Dr. Maio. He outlined a proposed study of the treatment of burns with orgone blankets. He began by describing current social and medical attitudes toward alternative medicine. He attributed the growing openness to orgone research to increased interest in alternative medical treatments. He added that for many years medical practitioners (and members of the scientific community in general) have been opposed to use orgone energy in treatment because there is so little research supporting it, yet ironically, he stated, the reason there is so little research supporting it is because many are not open to funding or supporting research associated with orgone energy. In short, there is a vicious cycle that must be broken to move orgone research forward. That is one of the goals of the proposed study.
Dr. Maio next outlined the study. Two groups of 50 burn patients would each be given a blanket in addition to traditional treatment. The blankets given to one group would be orgone blankets; the blankets given to the other would be “sham” blankets. One attendee suggested there be a third group that was not given any blanket to use as a control for any sort of placebo effect. Dr. Maio agreed that this would be a good idea. The groups with the blankets would use them for 30 minutes twice a day. The primary measurement taken would be the length of time it took for the wound to heal. Secondary measurements would include infection rate, pain control, and functional outcomes, i.e., would the use of the orgone blanket lead to increased or decreased motility of the affected region compared with those using no blanket or the “sham” blanket.
Dr. Maio stated that the real challenge lay in explaining the mechanism by which the blankets work. This would require describing the mechanics by which the orgone energy blanket functions. Some of this would come into play in approaching potential funding sources as well as gaining approval for the study from the Internal Review Board at the University of Michigan (if, indeed, the study were to be conducted at the University of Michigan). Dr. Maio also mentioned that, given the ORACs past history with the FDA, steps might have to be taken to earn an exemption—something he felt shouldn’t be too much of a problem given the non-invasive nature of the ORAC.
Dr. Maio also made a few suggestions that would help move medical orgonomy forward. These included encouraging more collaboration between orgonomic societies, the creation of international partnerships (e.g. with Dr. Kavouras), the establishment of a national or international congress on medical orgonomy, and the development of a medical network for the discussion of medicinal applications of orgone energy.
The conference attendees were very enthusiastic and offered a number of suggestions to the researchers regarding approaches to the study and how to control for random variables. A few stated that they felt that while Dr. Huthsteiner and Dr. Maio should definitely give thought to the numerous variables and control for as many as reasonably possible, what was imperative was that the study move forward, that if a well-planned study could make it into a mainstream medical journal, that this might help to create new opportunities for further follow-up research involving medicinal applications of orgone energy.
The excitement generated by listening to the aforementioned proposal had piqued many attendees’ imaginations. Hopefully, Dr. Huthsteiner and Dr. Maio will be able to return to Orgonon to discuss their progress at a future conference.
Thursday would be the last full day of the conference. Theirrie Cook, founder and sole proprietor of Orgonics (a business that sells orgone accumulators and blankets), would be speaking during the morning session. Theirrie founded Orgonics in 1988. She first encountered Reich’s writings in 1971 while working as a Leftist organizer in Berkeley. She had wandered into Cody’s Books and noticed a copy of The Mass Psychology of Fascism laying on a display table. From there, her interest led her to other books by Reich, and she eventually entered into therapy with Myron Sharaf, a student of Reich’s and author of Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich.
From 1988 to 1992, Orgonics only produced orgone blankets. The company began producing orgone accumulators in 1992. Presently, Orgonics produces ORACs ranging from 3-ply to 10-ply, various sizes and strengths of orgone blankets, and a number of other orgone accumulating devices.
The focus of Theirrie’s talk was on what she considers to be the three major research issues to keep in mind when working with orgone accumulators: 1) the quality of the charge; 2) Oranur and DOR; and 3) their use in therapy and for medical applications.
With regard to the quality of charge, Theirrie made a number of points. The most important consideration when considering quality of charge is the materials used for construction. For instance, aluminum and copper are not suitable for construction of an ORAC. The best material is carbon steel; however, since pure carbon steel is prone to rust (and wiping down the metallic surfaces of an ORAC with a damp cloth helps keep them clean in addition to increasing the charge), Theirrie advocated use of galvanized steel—i.e. zinc-coated carbon steel—which will not rust. She stated that there is even some anecdotal evidence that galvanized steel has a positive affect on unwanted skin blemishes—a fact that she attributed to the zinc coating. Theirrie mentioned two other companies that make devices similar to orgone accumulators: Scenar and Nyvatex. Theirrie cautioned against using the devices sold by these companies. The “healing blankets” produced by Scenar are made with palladium which, Theirrie stated, does not work nearly as well as steel, and the Nyvatex Health-Mat is made with aluminum which Theirrie considers a “toxic” metal. To demonstrate the effectiveness of accumulators built with different metals, Theirrie has performed experiments on seedlings and suggested anyone interested in “objectifying the subjective” consider doing the same.
Theirrie also shared her thoughts on the different types of organic material she prefers to use in the construction of ORACs and orgone blankets. For blankets she recommends acrylic felt. The problem with cotton and wool, she stated, is the fact that these materials are hydroscopic, i.e., they absorb moisture in the atmosphere. This results in a diminished charge in the ORAC and under the orgone blanket.
With regard to Oranur and DOR (i.e. Deadly ORgone), Theirrie stated that as a result of the Oranur Experiment, we know that radioactivity irritates orgone energy. As such, she recommended that ORACs and orgone blankets not be stored or used near television and computer screens containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), fluorescent lights, microwaves, or any device that generates ionizing radiation. She recommended a book by Ralph Graeub entitled The Petkau Effect which discusses the negative effects of low-level radiation on living things—she emphasized that orgone is also a living thing. Theirrie also warned against using an orgone blanket in conjunction with an electric blanket. Never do it, she implored.
Finally, Theirrie talked about the use of orgone accumulating devices in therapy or medical treatment. First, she reiterated that which Reich had stated numerous times: that it is important to remember that most physical diseases have a psychological component and vice versa. As such, treatment of a physical illness with an ORAC may require concomitant character analytic therapy. Emotions often come to the fore while using the ORAC and may even result in resistance to using the device. In addition, Theirrie emphasized that it is important to detoxify in conjunction with ORAC use—especially when using the ORAC to treat physical biopathies.
Theirrie then shared a number of anecdotes and personal testimonies from those who have used the ORAC. She also mentioned some negative side-effects of ORAC use. Negative effects are always the result of misuse (or a negative psychic reaction), e.g., overcharge (using the ORAC too much and/or too often). Theirrie also stated that persons with high blood pressure should not use orgone accumulating devices.
Theirrie concluded her talk by addressing the factionalism within the orgonomic community. She stated that if orgonomy is to move forward, then researchers and proponents of orgonomy needed to work to break down the barriers between the various camps and bring an end to the backbiting and rumor mongering. She did not state that the various orgonomic groups would agree on everything, just that, if they didn’t agree on this or that point, then differences of opinion should be resolved via healthy debate. I, for one, agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly and hope that the proposed international congress on orgonomy might prove to be a step in the right direction.
Kevin Hinchey, Associate Director of the Wilhelm Reich Museum, would be giving the afternoon talk entitled “Wilhelm Reich and Orgone Energy: A Survey of the FBI and FDA Files”. In February of 2005, the records in these files were declassified via a Freedom of Information Act request—though, as one might imagine, many names and addresses mentioned in the documents were blacked out.
Kevin began by introducing the topic. Reich left for the United States on August 19, 1939, on the last ship to leave Europe for the U.S. before war broke out. He arrived in New York nine days later on August the 28th. The FBI file on Reich (of which approximately 800 pages have been declassified) was opened in December of 1940. These records were accumulated somewhat sporadically and reflect the on-again/off-again interest that the FBI had taken in Reich. The FDA file on Reich was opened in August of 1947 in the wake of a Mildred Brady article that appeared in the New Republic which painted an inaccurate and sensationalized portrait of Reich and his work with the orgone accumulator. These records contain 1000s of pages, and FDA interest in Reich would continue unabated from the time their investigation began.
Kevin first commented on the FBI files. The first mention of Reich in the FBI files was on December 7, 1939. FBI interest in Reich had been piqued because of his affiliation with the German Communist Party. These previous ties to the Communist Party would later become a major issue. The FBI’s interest in Reich was piqued again when he initiated efforts to bring his second wife to America. Again, Reich’s previous ties to the Communist Party were of concern to the FBI as was, to an extent, his involvement with the New School in New York.
Soon thereafter, Reich was taken into custody by the FBI on suspicion of being an “enemy alien”. Reich was incarcerated for 24 days, and there are 17 pages of documents relevant to this weeks-long investigation. In these documents, Kevin stated, one first sees the seeds of distortion being planted relevant to Reich’s work, in particular, to the claim that he had bragged of a “cure for cancer”—which he had never, nor did ever, make. Reich was eventually released.
In 1949, following up on complaints from Maine residents, the FBI conducted another investigation into Reich’s activities. Another was conducted in 1950. By this point, Reich had already begun writing letters to the Atomic Energy Commission (the first were composed in 1947), and they had already decided that his science was unsound. It is disheartening to know that a man who had so much respect for American democracy and who made every effort to keep the government abreast of his research was, ironically, considered a threat.
The FDA investigation, as mentioned, was precipitated by an article in the May 26, 1947 issue of the New Republic entitled “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich”. In response to the allegations made in the article, the FDA sent an investigator named Wood to Rangeley. Kevin described Inspector Wood’s first visit with Reich in the Student Laboratory. According to accounts, it was congenial and Inspector Wood seemed impressed with what he saw. Inspector Wood then talked with a number of Rangeley residents including Ms. Templeton, the woman responsible for building the first orgone accumulators for Reich. She gave the investigator—without Reich’s approval—a list of every ORAC user in the United States. The FDA would go on to contact the individuals on this listing hoping to find a dissatisfied ORAC user. They failed to so.
Kevin then read a number of personal accounts collected by Inspector Wood. These accounts are marred by Inspector Wood’s editorializing and insinuation. For example, oftentimes the word ‘disciple’ is used when describing Reich’s co-workers. Also evident is Inspector Wood’s drive to uncover negative testimonials to help build up the FDA case against Reich. As stated, there were none.
Of particular interest is the relationship that developed between Inspector Wood and Ms. Templeton. The two eventually married. Ms. Templeton, of course, stopped building ORACs, but one would have to wonder if this did not constitute a conflict of interest of sorts for Inspector Wood.
In 1951, Reich conducted the Oranur Experiment in which he placed a small quantity of radioactive radium into a 20-ply orgone accumulator itself housed in the orgone room in the Student Laboratory in order to study the reaction of the two energies to each other. Reich had informed over 100 state and federal government agencies of his intentions prior to the experiment including the President of the United States, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and the FBI. He did not, however, inform the FDA—though the FDA did learn of it soon thereafter at an interdepartmental meeting convened on August 20, 1951.
Kevin then went through a detailed chronology of the government’s reaction to the Oranur Experiment. In the end, the AEC decided that Reich had either fabricated the Oranur Experiment, that he exaggerated the effects, and/or that he misunderstood the cause of the effects witnessed.
The trial was then discussed, but since that has been examined at length elsewhere, the discussion of the trial was brief.
Attendees then asked questions and made comments. Dr. Maio pointed out that research methodology was still in its infancy in the 1950s. This, he posited, might explain the shoddy (at least by today’s standards) methodology of the FDA in conducting their own experiments into Reich’s claims regarding medicinal applications of the ORAC. It was pointed out that the researchers hired to investigate the ORAC were not considered very good researchers by their peers and/or, as is the case with a researcher mentioned in a recent New Yorker article that touches on the FDA investigation of the ORAC, were under-qualified medical students working alone with inadequate training and supervision. Given this, one is inclined to draw the conclusion that either there was never any intention of giving Reich’s ideas a fair hearing or that any attempts to replicate Reich’s experiments by the FDA were hampered by sub-par research methodology conducted by unqualified or negatively prejudiced researchers.
On Friday I was up early. The morning session was to be a round-table discussion involving those presenters still on hand (Dr. Strick, Dr. Grad, and Dr. Herskowitz had already left).
Each presenter summed up their own feelings and reflections on the future of orgonomy (in line with the theme of the conference: looking back, looking forward). Dr. Huthsteiner addressed the group first. She emphasized the fact that growing interest to alternative medicine could translate into increased openness to the medical application of orgone energy. She also noted the growing interest in the opening of the Reich archives in 2008. Now, she stated, was the time for orgonomy to become “unstuck”, and she stated that she saw the field growing in the next five years.
Theirrie Cook spoke next and emphasized opportunities for new research in orgonomy citing growing interest in astrobiology, ether science, energy medicine, and issues related to sexuality. To elucidate, she pointed out that the bion experiments have practical applications in the field of astrobiology and that orgone energy has relevance to ether science and energy medicine. Regarding sexuality, Theirrie pointed out that too often it is the first aspect of Reich’s work to be abandoned and that this is unfortunate as it forms the groundwork of our understanding of orgone energy and its study was the avenue by which Reich happened upon the discovery of the orgone.
Theirrie encouraged the physicians and researchers involved in orgonomy to join professional organizations, pursue grants, write articles for publication, and make presentations at appropriate conferences. As an example, she pointed out that Dr. James DeMeo had recently been invited to speak before the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the most prestigious scientific associations in the United States and publishers of the journal Science. She also mentioned the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSEEM) and the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). Finally, Theirrie emphasized the need to establish a presence in the scientific community, to establish networks of and open avenues for communication between orgonomists, to locate sources of funding for level-headed, trustworthy researchers in the field, and to move forward with intent and to be resilient in the face of opposition.
Dr. Ron Maio then spoke. He worried that, in his case, his specialized focus might be an issue—and could be for other researchers as well—especially in light of Theirrie’s comments about keeping the big picture in mind, or, as one attendee eloquently put it, the “red thread” that runs through Reich’s work and which ties his psychoanalytic work into his study of the bions, the discovery of the orgone, and the development of cloudbuster, etc. Dr. Maio emphasized his earlier point regarding the need for collaboration, to break down the barriers between the various orgonomic “camps”. He stated that there is a need to develop awareness of the ways in which bioenergetic research informs orgonomy—especially when compiling literature reviews for paper submissions.
Ron also mentioned his concerns about possible reaction to research involving orgone energy from review boards and sources of funding. Specifically, he worried that these individuals and groups might become distracted by the issues of sexuality inherent in orgonomy. Theirrie stated that she felt there was no getting around it and that it was imperative that one have a response ready. Kevin added that while one should have a response ready, the researcher must stay on message and keep the focus on the project at hand—for example, discussion of the proposed study of the treatment of burns with orgone blankets should focus on just that, the treatment of burns with the orgone blanket, and should not devolve into an impromptu evaluation of the role of orgasm in psychic health.
Finally, Ron mentioned how good laboratory work now would lay the groundwork for openness to future research. This led to a brief discussion of the value of perhaps taking an “indirect” approach, to frame orgonomic research in a language that is not strictly orgonomic. The question then arose as to when this “indirectness” would become subterfuge. It was agreed that the crux of this line of thought lay in the use of the word “orgone”. Personally, I agree with Theirrie’s earlier comment that researchers in orgonomy move forward with intent and be resilient in the face of opposition.
As the meeting drew to a close, many in attendance—especially those without scientific backgrounds—asked what they could do to help. Mary Higgins pointed out that the best way to support the museum is financially. While many obviously wished for ways in which to contribute in a more “hands-on” fashion, I felt that Mary’s point was quite valid. Too often I’ve run into people who think their doing the legacy of Reich a favor by proselytizing only to cringe as they mix up facts and provide muddied interpretations that do more to confuse the issue and turn off individuals to orgonomy than to present the material objectively and coherently. When the museum and the Wilhelm Reich Trust Fund receive the support, however, Reich’s legacy is enriched via the museum displays, the continued publication of primary materials, the preservation of archival materials, and by providing a logical hub for ongoing discussion of Reich and orgone energy.
And then it was over. I’m already looking forward to my next trip.