The Story of Wilhelm Reich by Michael Mannion

The story of Wilhelm Reich offers both an inspiring lesson—and an instructive warning—for those who seek a deeper understanding of our world and, even more so, for those who would change the status quo. Conflict was prominent in Reich’s life, as was great courage.  In the 1920s, he came into conflict with Freud in his inner circle. In the 1930s, as a political and social activist fighting for human freedom, he battled both Hitler and Stalin, each of whom put Reich on their death lists. In the 1940s, Reich was an early critic of the domination of American medicine by the pharmaceutical industry. He suffered greatly, personally and professionally, for his courageous public stands.  Reich took the concept of Life Energy out of the realm of metaphysical and scientific hypothesis and gave mankind a fundamentally new understanding of Life Energy as physical, demonstrable, measurable and usable. For him, Life Energy was no longer a philosophical premise but a physical reality.

Wilhelm Reich’s Life and Work 

Wilhelm Reich was born in 1897 in the easternmost region of Austria. The foundation for Reich’s revolutionary discoveries in medicine, psychoanalysis, biology and physics was laid in the early years of his life when he lived close to nature.  The study of energy functions in man and nature—from libido through bioenergy to orgone energy—is the consistent theme that runs throughout Reich’s work, beginning with his 1923 paper Concerning the Energy of Drives  and continuing through his last work on cosmic energy in 1957, Contact with Space.  Reich’s energy studies put him inside a stream of life-positive thought that has flowed through human thinking all over the world for thousands of years. Since antiquity, people have been aware of the life energy functions Reich later studied. It has had many names, such as chi; pneuma; prana; mana; and baraka; Reich called it orgone.

Body-Mind Medicine 

In the late 1920s, many in psychoanalysis considered Wilhelm Reich to be the “heir apparent” to Sigmund Freud because of his valuable contributions to psychoanalytic technique. But Reich broke with psychoanalysis. In the 1930s in Europe and the 1940s in the United States, he developed a new “body-mind” therapy. Much of what is now variously called body work or energy medicine can trace its origins to Reich’s therapeutic breakthrough into the biological realm from the psychoanalytical.

During the 1930s, Reich also experimentally investigated a working hypothesis—that Freud’s libido was not merely a metaphor or philosophical principle, but a real biological energy. He undertook a series of experiments designed to study the exact nature of sexual excitation. His experiments showed that there is a measurable energy charge at the surface of the skin which increases during pleasure and decreases during anxiety. Reich’s energy investigations into the functions of sexuality and anxiety had profound clinical implications which influenced his emerging “bodymind” therapy.

Bions — Insight into the Origin of Life

In the 1930s, continuing his energy research, Reich entered into a hotly debated area of research-biogenesis. He conducted his bion research (bion is a Greek word meaning “living” ) in Oslo. Bions are microscopically visible energy vesicles on the borderline between the living and non-living. The experiments, which were captured on motion picture film (Reich was a pioneer in microscopic cinematography) showed living, motile protozoan formations organizing from decaying matter. In 1937, Prof. Roger du Teil of the Centre Universitaire Mediterranean in Nice, France confirmed Reich’s bion experiments.

In his bion research, Reich has made a contribution that is not yet appreciated. He provided experimental microbiological evidence that life is being created in nature all the time, not just billions of years ago.   A re-evaluation of Reich’s bion research seems warranted.

The Discovery of Orgone Energy

Between 1938 and 1940, Reich discovered a new form of energy which he called “orgone” (because the energy was discovered through his study of the orgasm and because it charged organic matter). This is the most controversial aspect of his work.These investigations profoundly changed his work in therapy and medicine. He was no longer dealing with only words and ideas in therapy or with secondary physical symptoms in medicine-he was working with the life energy itself. In the 1950s, Reich’s research extended beyond the living organism to nonliving nature with investigations of atmospheric energy and cosmic energy. The foundation was being laid for a new paradigm in physics, in which mass-free energy, and not matter, is primary.

A Pioneer of the Paradigm Shift

In his best-selling book, The Turning Point, Fritjof Capra wrote of Reich, “…Wilhelm Reich was a pioneer of the paradigm shift. He has brilliant ideas, a cosmic perspective, and a holistic and dynamic worldview that far surpassed the science of his time and was not appreciated by his contemporaries.”

Reich was not an “arm-chair” academician or “ivory tower” scientist.  In Europe, in the 1920s and 1930s, Reich brought psychotherapy to working and poor people, using his own funds to found mental health clinics. He fought for women’s abortion rights; was an advocate for sexual education and access to contraceptives; and held mass sexual education rallies to discuss these issues. Reich was a leader in the struggle to protect the sexual rights of the young. He described the damage done by routine circumcision; by the prohibitions against natural infantile and childhood masturbation; and by the lack of social support for, and understanding of, healthy adolescent sexual expression. He coined the term “sexual revolution” to describe the development of natural human sexuality. Reich openly confronted the fascism of Hitler and Stalin and worked with anti-Nazi elements in Germany.

In America, Reich was among the first to speak against pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry promoting drug therapies and disparaging all other medical approaches. He warned of the nuclear threat and about the adulteration of our foods. An early “ecologist,” he focused on the deterioration of the environment, the dying of the forests, desertification and the climate change he saw worldwide in the early 1950s.

In the 1930s, the Nazis burned Wilhelm Reich’s books and targeted him for death. He escaped the Nazis. In 1956 and 1960, the U.S. government conducted four book burnings. On November 3, 1957, Reich died in a Federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Wilhelm Reich left a legacy for a new generation to claim, a wealth of scientific and medical discoveries that remains to be seriously studied, developed and applied for the betterment of human society, among them:

  • microbiological work in biogenesis
  • studies of the bioenergetic nature of sexuality and anxiety
  • a new medical approach to preventing cancer and other diseases
  • a theory of disease based on the presence of stagnant, immobilized life energy and a medical device to remove that deadly energy from rigid musculature
  • investigations of the antinuclear properties of orgone energy
  • an astrophysical hypothesis of the superimposition of cosmic orgone energy streams as the basis of galaxy formation
  • orgone energy weather modification experiments
  • advanced mathematical gravity and antigravity equations relating to extraterrestrial space ships and human space travel

Will this body of work receive the support it needs?


michaelmannionMr. Mannion has been a professional health and medical writer for over 35 years, working with major conventional and complementary health organizations and practitioners. He was formerly the Director of Professional Education Publications for the American Cancer Society and the Managing Editor of the Society’s flagship journal. He is the author of a number of works of nonfiction, among them A Maverick’s Odyssey: One Doctor’s Quest to Conquer Disease – The Story of Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D. and the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine; The New American Medicine; Frankenstein Foods; The Pharmacist’s Guide to Over-the-Counter and Natural Remedies; How to Help Your Teenager Stop Smoking; and Project Mindshift: The Reeducation of the American Public Concerning Extraterrestrial Life. He is also the author of three novels, Death Cloud; Colleen; and Erin’s Daughters.

trishPatricia B. Corbett and Michael Mannion are the co-founders of The Mindshift Institute which has produced over two dozen events in New York City and at the invitation of organizations such as the Center for Psychology & Social Change in Cambridge, MA; Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in New York, and member groups of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California and Connecticut. For four years, they ran the Center for New Knowledge in Northampton, MA.  And for 10 years (2003-2012), they produced an annual Mindshift conference in Rangeley, ME called Cosmos and Consciousness.  For more information, visit their website at