Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Energy Accumulator Was Beloved by William S. Burroughs and Banned by the FDA: Find Plans to Build the Controversial Device Online

Was Aus­tri­an Marx­ist psy­cho­an­a­lyst Wil­helm Reich a tren­chant socio-polit­i­cal thinker or a total crank? A fraud or a prophet? Maybe a lit­tle from each col­umn, at dif­fer­ent times dur­ing the course of his bizarre career. An enthu­si­as­tic stu­dent of Sig­mund Freud, Reich applied his teacher’s the­o­ries of repressed libido to the fright­en­ing polit­i­cal the­ater of the 1930s, writ­ing against the spread of Nazism in his pre­scient 1933 book The Mass Psy­chol­o­gy of Fas­cism. Here, Reich brought Marx and Freud togeth­er to argue that sex­u­al inhi­bi­tion and fear led to arrest­ed devel­op­ment and sub­mis­sion to author­i­tar­i­an­ism.

Reich was “a sex­u­al evan­ge­list,” Christop­er Turn­er writes at The Guardian, “who held that sat­is­fac­to­ry orgasm made the dif­fer­ence between sick­ness and health.” His work was banned and burned by the Nazis, and he fled to a suc­ces­sion of Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, then to the U.S. in 1939, “by which time his for­mer psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic col­leagues were ques­tion­ing his san­i­ty.” The pri­ma­ry rea­son for their sus­pi­cion: Reich’s devo­tion to what he called “orgone,” an all-per­va­sive sex­u­al ener­gy that per­me­ates the uni­verse… accord­ing to Reich. Orgone and relat­ed con­cepts appear in his ear­ly work, but by the end of the 1930s, they came to entire­ly dom­i­nate his think­ing.

“In the strange and col­or­ful his­to­ry of pseu­do­science, Wil­helm Reich’s ‘dis­cov­ery’ of orgone—a sub­stance that’s not only a life force, but indeed makes up the very fab­ric of space—must sure­ly be a water­shed,” writes Matt Simon at Wired. Reich inten­si­fied his belief in the glow­ing blue ener­gy of orgone with the inven­tion of the Orgone Ener­gy Accu­mu­la­tor, an iso­la­tion box that sup­pos­ed­ly charged those who sat inside it with the pow­er of orgone. The device went through a few iter­a­tions (see the use of the “orgone blan­ket, above), until its final form of a met­al-lined box rough­ly the size of a wardrobe or tele­phone booth.

Reich’s influ­ence on 20th cen­tu­ry cul­ture goes far beyond the cre­ation of this weird device. He might be said to have pre­dict­ed and pre­cip­i­tat­ed what he him­self called the “sex­u­al rev­o­lu­tion.” (“No pow­er on earth will stop it,” Reich wrote in the 30s.) Crit­ics dis­missed his belief in the lib­er­at­ing poten­tial of free love as a “geni­tial utopia.” Their scorn mat­tered lit­tle to the coun­ter­cul­tur­al fig­ures who picked up and dis­sem­i­nat­ed his work. “Almost a cen­tu­ry” after Reich’s inven­tion of orgone, writes Simon, “his bonkers ideas live on,” includ­ing the notion that near­ly every health con­di­tion can be traced to an imbal­ance of orgone ener­gy.

The Orgone Accu­mu­la­tor was pop­u­lar­ized by William S. Bur­roughs, a true believer—as he was in many things, from Sci­en­tol­ogy to Shamanism—and an enthu­si­as­tic pro­mot­er of “life in orgone box­es.” (Jack Ker­ouac called Bur­roughs’ accu­mu­la­tor a “mys­ti­cal out­house” in On the Road.) Bur­roughs swore by the accu­mu­la­tor and wrote a 1977 arti­cle for Oui mag­a­zine in which he defend­ed Reich’s claims that time spent in the sealed box might cure cancer—a claim that prompt­ed the FDA to file an injunc­tion against Reich in 1954 to stop use of the device and lit­er­a­ture per­tain­ing to it.

“Reich con­tin­ued prof­it­ing from the accu­mu­la­tors,” writes Simon, “and the court found him in con­tempt of the injunc­tion. He was sen­tenced to fed­er­al prison, where he died in 1957.” Devo­tees of his work have defend­ed him ever since. (“Who is the FDA,” wrote Bur­roughs indig­nant­ly, “to deprive can­cer patients of any treat­ment that could be effi­ca­cious?”). James DeMeo, Ph.D., direc­tor of the Orgone Bio­phys­i­cal Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry in Ash­land Ore­gon, has recent­ly released the 3rd, revised and expand­ed, edi­tion of his Orgone Accu­mu­la­tor Hand­book, a thor­ough ref­er­ence guide, “with con­struc­tion plans.”

Should you have the desire to build your own “mys­ti­cal out­house,” DeMeo’s text would seem to be a defin­i­tive ref­er­ence. Pro­ceed at your own risk. Wil­helm Reich’s orgone ther­a­py remains square­ly on a list of treat­ments unap­proved by the FDA. The FBI, on the oth­er hand, who “have a whole sec­tion on their web­site ded­i­cat­ed to Wil­helm Reich,” notes Mary Bel­lis, found no cause to pros­e­cute the Aus­tri­an psy­chol­o­gist. “In 1947,” they note, “a secu­ri­ty inves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ed that nei­ther the Orgone Project nor any of its staff were engaged in sub­ver­sive activ­i­ties.” But what could have been more sub­ver­sive to the post-war U.S. estab­lish­ment than main­tain­ing the world’s ills could be cured by real­ly good sex? Down­load a free copy of DeMeo’s book here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

William S. Bur­roughs’ Man­i­festo for Over­throw­ing a Cor­rupt Gov­ern­ment with Fake News and Oth­er Prophet­ic Meth­ods: It’s Now Pub­lished for the First Time

A Look Inside William S. Bur­roughs’ Bunker

The Famous Break Up of Sig­mund Freud & Carl Jung Explained in a New Ani­mat­ed Video

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Caleigh Fisher says:

    As some who had used out­come accu­mu­lates and stud­ied Reich’s work as well as repro­duc­ing some of his exper­i­ments he will go down as the tes­la of 2nd half of cen­tu­ry. Bril­liance maligned. Great­est nat­ur­al sci­en­tist of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

  • Caleigh Fisher says:

    Does this site inten­tion­al­ly do respelling or gram­mar fix?

    Cau­tion re accu­mu­la­tor use.

    This is not hyper­bole. Use dur­ing hazy smog­gy or over­cast days can be harm­ful.

  • Pat says:

    Sounds like the orig­i­nal and nat­ur­al orgone accu­mu­la­tor is the penis and vagi­na. You don’t have to build anyth­ng but a lov­ing rela­tion­ship with a mem­ber of the oppo­site sex. I’m in.

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