Reich, Wilhelm (1897–1957)
Austrian psychoanalyst, whose later ideas on life energy had
analogies with occult and mystical concepts. Reich was born on
March 24, 1897, in Dobrzcynica, Galicia. The son of a farmer,
he was tutored at home for entrance to the German Gymnasium
at Czernowitz (Cernauti) at the age of 14. He boarded with
a family in Czernowitz and helped out on his father’s farm during
vacations. Reich passed his Abiturium in 1915 just as World
War I was heating up. He joined the Austrian army and served
on the Italian front.
In 1918, he returned to study in Vienna. He matriculated in
law at the University of Vienna, then went on to study medicine.
He obtained his M.D. in 1922 and after graduate studies in
neurology and psychiatry became the first clinical assistant at
Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Polyclinic in 1922 and vicedirector
in 1928. He joined the Austrian Socialist Party in 1924
with the hope of reconciling Freudian and Marxist theories. He
had become convinced that much neurosis was caused by poverty,
bad housing conditions, and various social ills. His actions
alienated him from orthodox psychoanalysts and doctrinaire
He joined the Communist Party in 1928 and became a pioneer
in advocating health centers, but after a visit to Russia in
1929 he was disappointed with Russian bureaucracy and bourgeois
moralistic attitudes toward sexuality. He was expelled
from the Communist party in 1933 because of his advocacy of
sexual politics. Later, the International Psychoanalytic Association
excluded him because of his Communist associations.
He moved to Berlin in 1930 and the following year helped
establish Verlag für Sexualpolitik (Sexpol-Verlag) for the sexual
education of young people. He followed the logic inherent
in the original Freudian concept of the overriding importance
of the sexual urge in human affairs. A vicious newspaper smear
campaign centered in Scandinavia hounded him through the
mid-1930s (1933–39). He left Germany to escape the Nazis in
1939, after exposing what he considered the sham Socialism
and perverse character of the Hitler regime.
He escaped to the United States and settled in Forest Hills,
Long Island, but moved to Oregon, Maine, in the 1940s, where
he established the Orgone Institute Research Laboratories. He
was once again the subject of attacks from journalists and was
persecuted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on
charges arising from a tragi-comic misunderstanding of Reich’s
theories of cosmic ‘‘orgone’’ energy in relation to a cure for
He developed what he called an ‘‘orgone accumulator,’’ a
large box-like arrangement of materials that, he claimed,
trapped orgone energy, which entered the device more rapidly
than it exited. Reich believed that this energy had a tonic effect
on individuals sitting in the accumulator, and that it was particularly
beneficial for cancer sufferers.
He supplied this device only to individuals who would use
it experimentally under the guidance of a qualified physician.
But the FDA proceeded against Reich as if he were a common
charlatan peddling a worthless cancer cure. Reich refused to
comply with a court injunction banning the use of his ‘‘orgone
accumulator’’ and insisting on the removal of the word ‘‘orgone’’
from all his books, and he was eventually sentenced to
two years imprisonment for contempt of court. Most of his
books (some of which had been burned in Nazi Germany) were
seized by the American authorities and burned at the Gansevoort
Incinerator, New York, August 23, 1956.
Reich was a brilliant if eccentric thinker who continually ran
up against intense social and government forces. Many of his
ideas, especially those concerning sexuality, would be quite acceptable
today. His championing of the importance of sexual
expression in Freudianism was rejected by most psychoanalysts,
although they used many of his therapeutic insights. His
reconciliation of psychic and somatic aspects of psychoanalysis,
long desired by Freud, was regarded with suspicion and mistrust
by Freud himself. Reich’s teachings on ‘‘sexual revolution,’’
as opposed to authoritarian repression, were grossly misinterpreted
after his death by cranks, pornographers, and
hippies on one hand, and by a humorless orthodoxy of authoritarian
Reichian physicians on the other.
Reich died in the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,
November 3, 1957.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Reich, Wilhelm
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Constable, T. J. ‘‘Orgone Energy Engineering through the
Cloudbuster.’’ In John White and Stanley Krippner, eds. Future
Science. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1977.
Reich, Ilse Ollendorff. Wilhelm Reich a Personal Biography.
New York St. Martin’s Press, 1969.
Reich, Peter. A Book of Dreams. New York Harper & Row,
Reich, Wilhelm. Character Analysis. New York Orgone Institute
Press, 1949. Reprint, New York Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
———. The Discovery of the Orgone. Vol. 1, The Function of the
Orgasm; Sex-economic Problems of Biological Energy. New York
Orgone Institute Press, 1942.
———. The Discovery of the Orgone. Vol. 2, The Cancer Biopathy.
New York Orgone Institute Press, 1948.
———. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. New York Orgone Institute
Press, 1946.
Sharaf, Myron. Fury on Earth A Biography of Wilhelm Reich.
New York St. Martin’s Press, 1983.