What follows is an unpublished essay in two parts, dealing with the life and thought of Wilhelm Reich. Part 1 is about his exotic theories, and is written from the viewpoint of a true believer. Part 2 relates his ideas to the tragedy of his childhood. Psychoanalysts generally think of Reich as having made significant contributions early in his career, for example in his Character Analysis. But in his later works, he is seen as having gone off the deep end. I prefer the deeper waters. They are much more interesting.
BLUE IS THE COLOR: A REICHIAN REVERIE
Part 1: The Discovery of the Orgone
Have you ever wondered why it is that the sky is blue? I know the answer. I learned it from Wilhelm Reich. In research during the late 1930s, he discovered a mystical energy, radiating from the sun and streaming through the earth’s atmosphere. He came to recognize that it pervades the entire cosmos. Reich called this energy the orgone. Orgone is blue in color. You might have heard other explanations about why the sky is blue. They are wrong.
Here is how he discovered this energy. Reich one day was looking through a powerful microscope and saw before his eyes glowing particles, much smaller than individual cells, and they were blue in color. He called them packet amoeboid bions. They seemed like tiny amoebas, moving about in a lively manner, charged with a mysterious energy. Reich had found the atom of life, the fundamental element of the biological world. Bions may aggregate and assemble themselves into clumps - precursors, he realized, to living cells. We are all made of bions. It is not only that. Reich was able to observe these tiny entities coming spontaneously into existence, including out of entirely inorganic materials, such as sand. One might think this impossible, since there is no carbon in sand. Reich showed otherwise. I bet you did not know that these little atoms of life are continuously being generated throughout the universe. And they glow with a beautiful blue light. The particles of life are everywhere. People wonder if there is life on other planets. Reich discovered that the universe itself is alive.
Reich took samples of the preparations in which he had found the bions into a special room from which all the light had been extinguished. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, the materials he had been examining became visible with their blue glow. He then saw something else: the energy radiating from his samples seemed to be producing little sparks of light swirling up into the blackness. Later that day he removed the bion cultures from the dark room and went back in to take a nap. When he awoke, the blue glow and the sparks, although faint, were still there! A daring conclusion emerged from this experience: the blue energy did not just come from the little bions. It did emanate from them, for sure; but it was also simply everywhere, in and outside the room, in the atmosphere, in the sky. Reich had stumbled upon his greatest discovery: the orgone energy that is bound up in the origin of life itself.
There is one other thing - about the term he coined, orgone. It is a condensation of two other words: “organism” (a living being) and “orgasm” (a sexual climax). You see, Reich knew a secret about the energy charging the blue bions and streaming through the skies: it is sexual. An unsympathetic observer might describe the word “orgone” as a strange neologism, a medical symptom of psychosis. Such a person would likely say that the whole theory of the life energy involved a delusional reconstruction of reality. I say geniuses are often regarded as mad, and, anyway, the medical model in psychology and psychiatry is bankrupt. Reich visually experienced the orgone directly, in his darkroom. As to its sexual nature, he seems to have known this intuitively. A cardinal feature of his thinking was the equating of life and sexuality. Some thoughts about the sources in his life history of this equation appear in Part 2 of this essay. They involve events that were indescribably tragic, and heavily sexual.
There is an additional complication in the discovery of the orgone and in the research on the bions that revealed its existence. There was a second group of tiny particles floating alongside the bions – they were not round and blue; instead they were an ugly brown or perhaps black, and they were lancet-shaped. He observed how sometimes they could penetrate and kill individual bions. He called them T-bacilli, where the “T” stands for the German word “Tod,” meaning “death.” These were lethal death-germs, engaged in a subcellular world of warfare against life. Sometimes the bions would gang up on the T-bacilli, encircling them and causing them to spin around, as if frantic, but then become still, inert, and dead. At other times, the death particles would overwhelm their blue adversaries and then go on to invade whole cells, causing them to become cancerous. Examinations of tissues taken from the malignant tumors of dying cancer patients confirmed what Reich suspected: the cancerous tissues were swarming with T-bacilli, and there was a striking paucity of the blue atoms of life.
The antagonism of the bions and the T-bacilli, together with the findings regarding the genesis of cancer, suggested a potential breakthrough in the treatment of the dreadful disease. One could inject tumors with cultures of the blue bions and see if the advance of the malignancy could be arrested and even reversed. A potential cure for cancer! But then Reich had a further flash of insight – why not just irradiate the cancer with the orgone energy directly, and skip the bions? Thus was born Reich’s famous – some might say, unfairly, infamous – treatment method of orgone irradiation, accomplished in an orgone energy accumulator, also known as the orgonebox. This was a structure rather like a large rectangular coffin, set on its end, and one could could climb in and sit there, bathed by the life energies building up within. The accumulator’s walls were constructed of alternating layers of organic and inorganic substances, serving to absorb the ambient orgone and raise it to high levels of concentration. Reich conducted tests of miniature accumulators and found their interiors to reliably show a temperature rise, confirming the device’s efficient performance. He even sent one of these devices to Albert Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey, requesting his support for the discoveries. Although interested at first, Einstein eventually broke off all communication with him and refused to answer his many letters. The great physicist’s mind appeared, unquestionably, to have been poisoned by Reich’s enemies, who were increasingly abundant.
Who were Reich’s enemies, and why did they hate him? We can begin with Hitler and Stalin, both of whom issued orders for his execution. Reich was despised as well by his colleagues in the field of psychoanalysis, who ejected him from their organizations and spread gossip that he was insane. People in political power everywhere resisted his thinking, which, when all is said and done, was about just one thing: freedom - the freedom to love, the freedom to know sexual union, the freedom to experience an unobstructed orgasm, the freedom to be wholly, radiantly alive. Nazis, Soviet Communists, Fascists, authoritarians of every stripe and variety fought Reich’s revolutionary ideas and sought to crush their advocates. These crusaders of evil, orgastically impotent to the last man, devoted their dark resources to blocking the free flow of sexual passion and protecting their own death-dealing power. They were the lethal T-bacilli of the body politic.
In Reich’s last years, spent in his home outside of Rangeley, Maine, he thrust himself into a battle against an alien invasion from space. Riding in ships powered by Energy Alpha, the orgone, the aliens had come from afar to drain the earth of its resources. Reich assembled a space gun to fight off the invaders, a powerful device that drew out the orgone from any target at which it was aimed. The space gun was an adaptation of Reich’s famous cloud buster, an arrangement of hollow tubes used to suck orgone out of clouds and release their precipitation. He and his young son Peter engaged the alien EAs (the Energy Alpha fueled space ships) from the roof of his home. Peter was raised within his father’s understanding of the world and believed in all his father’s discoveries. The EAs suspended themselves in the sky, disguised as stars, drawing the life energy from the earth’s surface and progressively deadening our world. Reich and his son were able to distinguish the EAs from the other points of light in the evening sky by the effects of the space gun. When it was aimed at the stars, there was no effect. But when the assembly of hollow tubes was directed at the aliens’ ships, they became disabled and quickly “winked out,” vanishing permanently from the heavens. Wilhelm and Peter Reich were cosmic warriors who defended our planet against a life-depleting invasion from space. Who knows? We may only be alive because of their efforts.
A miniaturized space gun was also constructed in this last period of Reich’s creativity: the medical DOR-Buster. You see, it turned out that the orgone actually has two forms – the positive blue orgone (OR), and the colorless deadly orgone (DOR). DOR, if it enters the body, obstructs the free flowing OR and leads to a putrefaction of living tissues and the promoting of malignancies. A DOR-buster can be aimed at the various afflicted body parts, drawing out the DOR, opening bodily channels for the needed influx of OR. OR and DOR battle one another, not only in the human body, but in the atmosphere as well. Dust devils and tornados, for example, are masses of DOR with swirling currents of OR surrounding them and preventing their deadly effects. The encircling of DOR by OR is the macroscopic counterpart to the blue packet amoeboid bions sealing off and killing the deadly T-bacilli in the microscopic domain of the cells. I once interviewed a Reichian physician in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He showed me his DOR-buster, a collection of tubes affixed to each other in parallel and embedded in a small wooden handle. It looked like a strange, medium-sized handgun. As he pointed the instrument at my arm and ran it up and down, back and forth, the hairs on my arm stood straight up and I felt an intense tingling sensation. Afterwards, my forearm had a dull ache. The doctor explained this sensation as the result of the DOR having been drawn out. He wanted to use the DOR-buster on and over my whole body, but I declined. I was frightened that he was unknowingly drawing out the OR rather than the DOR. A number of Reich’s followers created a cult around his discoveries, and many of these people are not entirely reliable.
It was the orgone energy accumulator that was Wilhelm Reich’s final undoing. Officials in the United States government were persuaded by his enemies that the orgone treatment of terminal cancer patients was a matter of medical quackery. A court order forbidding the transporting of orgone boxes across state lines was issued, and when Reich’s followers violated this order, he was arrested and jailed. Reich refused to allow colleagues to post bail for him, and submitted to the loss of his liberty as an act of holy martyrdom. He eventually died in prison, in the year 1957, from a heart attack. In the company of the greatest figures in human history – Socrates, Jesus Christ, Giordano Bruno – he sacrificed his life to the cause of Truth and Love. Reich was no quack, nor was he crazy. He was a hero.
Part 2: The Tragedy
What could it be that occurred in the life of Wilhelm Reich that set him on his pathway to the discovery of the orgone? What were the events that led to his conviction that life energy is also sexual energy? I know the answers to these questions, because Ilse Reich, one of his 3 wives, revealed them in a short biography she authored. She said he carried a secret from his childhood, pertaining to the circumstances surrounding the death of his beloved mother. I learned more about this matter later on, when his private personal diary was published. It was written late in his life, during the 1940s, but it dealt with the events of his youth.
Picture the following scene. It was a cold winter night in Austria in the year 1909 (Reich was born in 1897). A 12 year-old Wilhelm and his younger brother Robert were asleep in their farmhouse. Also in the home were Reich’s mother and a live-in tutor, who was responsible for the boys’ educations. The father was away on a trip. Wilhelm was awakened by noises he did not recognize. He decided to go and investigate. Shivering, wearing only a nightshirt, his feet bare against the cold stone floor, his teeth chattering, Wilhelm traversed the hallway in the direction of the tutor’s room. He heard whispering voices and heavy breathing inside the room, and then the creaking of the bed. It was his mother, and his tutor! The breathing became heavier and now there was moaning, and more of the horrible creaking. What were they doing? He realized exactly what it was: the two of them were engaged in sexual intercourse, his mother and his teacher.
How does a young boy react to this discovery? He tells us, in his diary. Reich responded with shocked disbelief, with moral outrage against his mother, and with powerful, confusing feelings of sexual excitement. I imagine his thoughts to have been the following.
How can this be happening? My mother and my teacher? How can she do this? How can they do this? She’s a whore! This is sin! She’s married, and what will Father say? What will he do? Oh God, I want to touch myself! Please God! I hate her! I hate him! I hate their bodies! I hate my body! I want to die!
Reich’s father returned from his trip, and months passed, with nothing being said about his discovery of what had been taking place between his mother and the tutor. In his diary, he does not describe what he felt during this period of silence, but I think it must have been a mixture of continuing anger at his mother and a fear of what could happen in the family if the truth came out. The tutor eventually moved on, and a new one was hired for the boys. Nothing sexual was occurring with the new teacher, as far as Wilhelm knew anyway, but the father nevertheless began to accuse her of harboring desires for him, and for a number of other men in their community. He had long been obsessed with fantasies of his wife’s infidelity and did not believe her protests of innocence. But there had never been any real evidence that was brought out, and so family life continued but under great tension. One night there was an unprecedently violent eruption of the father’s jealous fury, and a whole new set of accusations that Reich’s mother had been engaged in sexual acts with the tutors and others. Again, she denied having been unfaithful and ran from the room in tears.
Wilhelm, witnessing this terrible scene, but knowing his mother was lying, finally could conceal the truth no longer. He revealed everything about those nights when the father had been away: the noises, the freezing temperatures, the heavy breathing and whispering from inside the tutor’s room, the moaning, the creaking of the bed. As the boy told his story, his father stood like a statue, as if transfixed, stony-faced, silent but listening with rapt attention. Then there was a cry from the kitchen, where Reich’s mother had been listening to the revelations. She had swallowed a large quantity of Lysol in an effort to kill herself. Her husband and son, frightened she might die, rushed to her side and forced her to vomit up the poison. She survived this first suicide attempt, but life in the family now became a bloody hell without letup. Every day was the same: the father would begin brooding each evening with images of his wife’s sexual adventures parading through his mind and then would follow up with vicious name-calling, cursing, and then savagely violent beatings. Again and again, day after day, week after week, the attacks continued, leaving the mother cowering in the corner, bruised, crying, bleeding.
Finally, there was a second drinking of the Lysol, and this time it did its job. She suffered severely as the poison slowly worked its way through her system, producing agonizing pain in her stomach, blinding headaches, confusion, and, eventually, unconsciousness and death. Wilhelm Reich, now 13 years old, witnessed the entirety of the unfolding tragedy, which occurred in direct consequence of his having revealed his mother’s sexual infidelity.
Lysol was used for three purposes in the early years of the 20th Century: as a cleaning agent, as an aid to feminine hygiene, and as a method of suicide. Death by Lysol, then and now, is a most terrible thing.
What did the boy feel in the face of this catastrophe? Nothing. In his diary he recounts that there was no mourning, on his part or his father’s. Instead a curious detachment set in, an almost scientific objectivity, as he watched and marveled at the physical changes taking place in his mother’s body as she passed from life to death. At first there had been a moving, suffering, crying, living human being present, and now there was just the still, silent, inert presence of dead flesh. How curious, how remarkable, he thought. Iwonder where her life energywent? A lasting fascination with the mystery of life and its relationship to matter I think had its beginnings here: in the juxtaposition of his mother’s two states – once alive, but now dead.
Who had Wilhelm’s mother been to him before the tragedy? She had been beloved, the one person he cared for most in the whole world. Reich’s father was reportedly authoritarian and prone to violence, physically abusive to both his sons, relentlessly paranoid about his wife’s fidelity, and narcissistically regarding himself as the center of family life. The sons hated him and tried to be as unlike him as possible. The mother in contrast was soft and affectionate, and did what she could to protect her boys from his violent temper.
How is a child in this situation to feel? What happened in the aftermath of his mother’s death, in the ensuing weeks and months and years? What happened inwardly, to the boy’s soul, as time wore on and his mother’s dead body lay lifeless in the grave?
One could also ask about the boy’s subsequent relationship with his father. There was a gradual disaffiliation from the father, a distancing, eventually a denial that he, Wilhelm, was even his father’s son. Late in life he suggested that he was the offspring of relations between his mother and a man from outer space. Such a fantasy is understandable, I think, in view of the fact that his acting on behalf of his father in revealing his mother’s infidelity cost this poor woman her life. Reich’s father was destroyed by his wife’s suicide, and he died a few years later.
What does all of this have to do with the discovery of the orgone? Everything. The blue orgone energy, concentrated inside the bions, coursing through the sky and the cosmos, holding the planets in their orbits, spinning and spiraling in the formation of the galaxies, inhering as a potential in all physical matter including the human body - derives from the life spirit of his mother that went missing when she died. The Orgone is the Mother of all Mothers, spread throughout the Universe, and She is very, very sexual.
The forces that killed Reich’s mother – his father’s merciless attacks and unforgiving accusations, Reich’s own hatred and moral condemnation of her for her infidelity, and, above all, his act of betraying her to his father – also live on in the world of his imaginings. They are present in the carcinogenic and otherwise deadly action of the T-bacilli, in the psychological and political structures that constrain the free flowing of sexual love in our society and prevent human beings from having unhampered orgasms, in the malevolent aliens who drain our planet of its orgone resources, and in DOR, the deadly energy that menaces us all.
There is a large painting by Reich that hangs in his museum entitled "The 20th Century." It shows in the background a scene of ongoing fiery destruction. In the foreground are two human figures. One looks just like his mother as she appears in photographs that were taken of her when she was alive. A man is lying alongside, with his head in her lap, and she seems to be gently stroking his head. His face is covered with bloody lacerations. My heart breaks when I look at this painting.