A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 27-Oct-2009

Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene were names given by Reich to powdery substances he found in the vicinity of his oranur experiments.  Reich was convinced that these substances were atmospheric orgone energy and DOR, transformed into physical matter by the same process of superimposition that he thought was responsible for creating stars and galaxies and which ultimately negated the effects of entropy.


Reich first described Melanor in a journal he published called The Orgone Energy Bulletin, volume III, number 4 (October 1951), in an article about the oranur experiment.  This article was later reprinted as a stand-alone publication titled The Oranur Experiment: First Report (1947-1951).  Although a portion of the Oranur article had the distinction of eventually being included in the book Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy (in the section titled "Orgone Physics"), the mentions of Melanor were unfortunately in portions of the Oranur article that were not reprinted in said book.  Reich described Melanor in greater detail in The Orgone Energy Bulletin, volume V, numbers 1-2 (January 1953) in an article titled "The Blackening Rocks."  In 1954, Reich renamed the journal CORE, which stood for Cosmic ORgone Engineering.  In CORE, volume VII, numbers 3-4 (December 1955), he published an article containing a few scant details about Melanor, which was also included in Selected Writings as a section titled "The Emotional Desert."  It is from this brief mention in Selected Writings that most people first heard about Melanor.  (Melanor was described in better detail in Contact With Space, but this later book has not been in print since 1957.)

Melanor was a black, powdery substance found on the rocks (and, according to one preface Reich wrote, on "living beings" — probably trees) near Reich's laboratory in Maine (a laboratory which Reich called "Orgonon" as a kind of a pun).  He discovered it after he performed his oranur experiments, and concluded that the DOR reactions from his experiments must have caused this substance to form.  After all, the substance was black, just like the blackness of death or of mounds of T Bacilli.  The link with the "black" effects of oranur sickess were unmistakable in Reich's eyes.  What Reich failed to take note of, though, was whether any of this blackish powder had been present before he started his oranur experiments.  He may have simply noticed something that had been there all along but which he had previously paid no attention to, because he'd had no reason to search for anything out-of-the-ordinary before the Oranur experiment.

(It should also be noted that Reich's descriptions of Melanor's appearance were reminiscent of the way conventional air pollution eats away at statues, leaving a pitted, sooty surface.)

In "Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene: Preliminary Chemical Analysis" (CORE vol. VII nos. 1-2, p. 31), author Robert A. McCullough states:

"In The Oranur Experiment and The Blackening Rocks (OEB III, V, 1951, 1953), Wilhelm Reich described his discovery of DOR and Melanor.  In his report, he told how a black, nauseating corrosive 'substance' attacked crystalline rock, resulting in the rocks disintegrating bionously, turning black and causing a severe excitation in the surrounding atmosphere."
How Reich determinged that the disintegration of the rocks was "bionous", we can only speculate.  It's doubtful that Reich examined them under a microscope for the weeks or months he claimed were necessary for bionous processes to occur.  As far as what was meant by "severe excitation in the atmosphere", Reich himself gives a clue in an editorial footnote to McCullough's article, at the bottom of page 32:
"Melanor does not radiate.  It does not affect the GM [Geiger-Müller] counter.  However, OR- (Bio-) Energy reacts to Melanor with severe excitation that, in the atmosphere, was demonstrable here at Orgonon to the extent of 200-800 and on occasion more counts per minute."
As I mentioned in my critique of Reich's GM counter technique, Geiger-Müller counters can give highly variable results depending upon how they are calibrated.  Their voltage level must be set against a control source pretty much every time they are used.  If "everywhere" at Reich's lab showed a pulse count of 200-800 counts per minute, this may mean that the whole area was loaded with particulate radiation, or it may simply mean that 200-800 cpm was the normal "background" level that that particular GM counter was calibrated to on that particular day.  This is not evidence of any atmospheric excitation, other than Reich's subjective opinion about how excited the air felt after he'd been in the presence of Melanor.

Fortunately, we have more to go on than these highly speculative conjectures as to the origins and effects of Melanor.  As the title of Robert A. McCullough's article above implies, Melanor was subjected to chemical analysis.  The pH of Melanor was measured as being between pH 3 and pH 5, making it acidic.  When heated to 1200 degrees Celsius, Melanor gave off hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, losing 40% of its weight in the process and turning bright red; the ash had a pH of 3.6-3.8.  Melanor was soluble in strong mineral acids, partly soluble in water, and "completely insoluble" in bases.  McCullough determined it to be a strong reducing agent, a fact which, on its surface, seemed to vindicate Reich's assertion that Melanor had a strong "hunger" for oxygen.  Most significantly, though, McCollough passed a sample of Melanor through a spectrograph to determine the chemical elements out of which it was composed:

"Major Chemical Components: A spectrographic analysis showed Melanor to contain, in part: aluminum-3%, copper-2%, iron-over 10%, potassium-0.5%, manganese-2%, and silicon-4% (percentages are approximate).  Calcium, lead, and sodium were absent.  Sulphur was found by chemical means."
    — "Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene: Preliminary Chemical Analysis", CORE vol. VII nos. 1-2, p. 34
Curiously absent from this analysis was any mention of the more common elements like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen.  Since McCullough claimed that heated Melanor gave off hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, Melanor would certainly have to contain carbon and hydrogen in addition to sulfur.  A high carbon content would, in fact, be sufficient to explain its black color.  It may be little more than an acidic soot, perhaps brought about by then-poorly-understood acid rain, that managed to leech a few of the minerals out of the rocks it settled on.  (McCollough's analysis only made use of Melanor scraped off the surfaces of rocks, not Melanor from any "living beings.")

Reich made a rather remarkable claim about Melanor in his Emotional Desert article:

"Gangrenous tissue is black and green due to melanor and T-bacilli development."
    — Selected Writings, part VII, sec. 2, footnote 1 (p. 455, 1973 ed.)
How Reich managed to extract Melanor from gangrenous tissues is anybody's guess.  My guess is, he did no such thing; he merely stated his conjecture that Melanor is present in gangrene and left it at that.  If Melanor were indeed present in gangrenous tissues in sufficient quantities to turn them black, then that should mean that gangrenous tissues should contain aluminum, copper, manganese, silicon, and sulfur, in roughly the amounts given above by McCullough.  Yet to my knowledge, no gangrenous tissue shows these minerals in anything above trace amounts, similar to the amounts found in healthy tissue.  Just because gangrene seems to "spread" from the initial infection site, and Melanor seems to spread in a destructive fashion through the rocks it covers (if indeed it does such a thing), does not mean that the two phenomena are in any way related to one another.


To Reich, Orite was the white (and therefore "good") counterpart to the black (and therefore "evil") Melanor.  Reich claimed that Orite was the white powder into which the rocks disintegrated after having been attacked by Melanor.  He also claimed that Melanor could turn into Orite upon absorbing sufficient orgone energy:

"Near Yuma we passed a stretch of Black Rocks.  The knowledge of the existence and the qualities of Melanor helped greatly to understand what we saw.  First, the evil-looking blackness itself.  Now it impressed the onlooker as an attacker, a sapper of strength.  It was as if the blackness was eating its way into the rock, causing it to form holes, first small ones, then larger ones.  In other places the attacked rock had reached a state where it crumbled into pebbles or rough sand.  A whitish hue of Orite had settled over such stretches of initial sand dune development.  White Orite was nothing else than the formerly black Melanor.  This sounds strange at first, but is easily comprehensible: Melanor, 'thirsty' and 'hungry' for moisture and oxygen absorbs energy only.  When saturated it begins to give off or to radiate energy, turning white, entirely in agreement with the absorbing qualities of black and the radiating giving out qualities of white bodies according to Kirchhoff."
    — Contact With Space, part VIII, pp. 239-240 [emphases in original]
Reich's mention of Kirchhoff here is specious.  In 1859, Prussian-born physicist Gustav Kirchhoff proved that the amount of radiative energy emitted at any frequency by a blackbody depended only upon the object's temperature.  The phenomenon Reich was seeing was certainly not blackbody radiation; a blackbody doesn't begin to radiate in the visible portion of the spectrum until its temperature is well over a thousand degrees.  The heating element in an electric toaster glows "red hot" because of blackbody radiation.  A powdery substance on the surface of a rock sitting in ordinary sunlight isn't going to get anywhere near hot enough to glow.  (And there is no such thing as a "whitebody" — "blackbody" merely refers to an object that absorbs all incident light and thus is completely non-reflective.)

But that wasn't the main argument Reich was making in the paragraph above.  His main assertion was that Melanor turned into Orite when it absorbed orgone energy.  This proposition should be testable; it should be possible to take some Melanor, put it in an orgone accumulator, and see if it in fact turns into Orite.  To my knowledge, neither Reich nor any subsequent orgonomists have ever performed this experiment.  Reich never even mentioned witnessing Melanor turn into Orite; he just saw Melanor on some rocks and Orite on some neighboring sand, and jumped to the conclusion that he was seeing two different stages of the same process.

McCullough did a chemical analysis of Orite, just as he had done with Melanor.  He found that Orite had a pH between 8 and 11.  When heated sufficiently, Orite gave off steam and left an ash that was 28% lighter than the pre-heated material and blue-white in color, with a pH of 10.  Orite had "a very variable solubility depending on the source from which it was obtained," which should have tipped McCullough (and Reich) off to the possibility that they were applying the broad term "Orite" to more than one white powdery chemical.  Orite was not found to be a reducing or an oxidizing agent, although oxidizing anions were found in it.  The results of the spectrographic analysis were more disappointing than for Melanor:

"A spectrographic analysis was made with Orite, but the approximate percentages are not available.  It was found to have considerable aluminum and sodium, with lesser amounts of copper, manganese, potassium and silicon.  Phosphorus and chlorine were found by chemical means."
    — "Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene: Preliminary Chemical Analysis", CORE vol. VII nos. 1-2, pp. 34-35
Recall that sodium was absent from the spectrographic analysis of Melanor.  For Melanor to turn into Orite, the sodium in the Orite would have to have appeared there from out of nowhere.  Either some other element — such as the sulfur in the Melanor, which is not mentioned as being present in Orite — would have to be transmuted into sodium by some means that no nuclear physicist has yet discovered, or Reich's assertion that matter is created out of free orgone energy via superimposition would suddenly have merit.

Or, more likely, Reich was wrong and Melanor doesn't turn into Orite.


Brownite, as its name implied, was a brownish substance.  It was less important to Reich than either Melanor or Orite.  According to McCullough, it was present on the rocks either under the black Melanor or over the white Orite, and was relatively soft — it could be scraped off down to a depth of two inches in places.  Reich thought that this substance, too, was the result of bionous disintegration of the rocks.

McCullough's chemical analysis of Brownite revealed that its pH was somewhere between 6 and 8, i.e. within 1 point of being pH neutral.  When heated sufficiently, it gave off carbon dioxide and lost 12% of its initial weight, leaving an ash that was dull gray brown in color and just as acidic as the ash of Melanor (pH between 3.6 and 3.8).  Brownite was only partially soluble in solvents of any pH, and when dissolved in an acid, it appeared to McCullough to be identical to an acid solution of Melanor.  Like Orite, Brownite showed neither oxidizing nor reducing action.  Finally:

    "A spectrographic analysis of Brownite showed the following: aluminum-3%, copper-0.5%, iron-over 10%, potassium-over 10%, manganese-4%, sodium-4%, and silicon-4%.  Lead and calcium were absent.  Anion analysis showed the presence of sulphate, phosphate, nitrate, carbonate, and chloride ions.

    Wilhelm Reich by observation and microscopic examination postulated that Melanor and Orite made a functional antithetical pair with Brownite resulting from their contact.
    The chemical investigations have borne out this contention fully: Melanor is acidic; Orite basic; and Brownite neutral.  Melanor is black; Orite white; and Brownite brown.  Melanor is soluble in acids; Orite in water and bases; and Brownite partially in all.  Melanor is non-fluorescent; Orite is fluorescent; and Brownite partially fluorescent.  Melanor is a reducing and dehydrating agent; Orite and Brownite are not.  Melanor has predominantly acidic cations and anions; Orite has basic cations and anions; and Brownite has a mixture of both."

    — "Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene: Preliminary Chemical Analysis", CORE vol. VII nos. 1-2, p. 35

So, not only is Melanor supposed to turn into Orite, Melanor and Orite in contact with one another are supposed to either turn into Brownite or create Brownite.  (Would this also happen to a patch of Melanor that was in the process of turning into Orite?  Reich and McCullough didn't say.)  And, apparently, in McCullough's thinking, any and all properties that Melanor and Orite have which are different, and which Brownite seems to fall somewhere along the spectrum in the middle of, are evidence that this transformation must exist.  This is one of the hallmarks of what Reich called "functional" thinking — anything two things that seem at first glance to be in an antithetical relationship with one another must in fact be in an antithetical relationship with one another, and no observation you could ever make can disprove it.  Any differences between Melanor and Orite, even differences that aren't anywhere close to being diametrically opposed, is interpreted as evidence for their mutual antithesis; any similarites between them are interpreted as evidence for the two of them forming a functional "pair."  Thus, the statement that they form an antithetical functional pair is an empty statement because it has no predictive power.  This isn't science, it's tautology.

Real evidence for this hypothesis would be the observation of Brownite actually forming as a result of Melanor and Orite being brought into contact with one another.  But as with the alleged transformation of Melanor into Orite, this is an experiment Reich never performed.  He observed Brownite that was already in place on the rocks and inferred that it had formed there because of the actions of the neighboring Melanor and Orite.

And he never, ever, brought in a trained geologist to look at his rocks.


Reich believed that Orene was a "middle stage," a step along the process by which mass-free orgone energy turned into solid matter and living organisms.  Unlike Melanor, Orite, and Brownite, Orene was never subjected to a chemical analysis, although McCullough did list a few procedures by which Orene could be produced in a laboratory.  According to McCullough, there were four different types of Orene: basic white, neutral white, acidic yellow, and basic yellow.  The basic white variety was prepared by exposing a concentrated sodium hydroxide (lye) solution to "a DOR atmosphere."  No mention was made of experiments in which the production of basic white Orene was attempted in a "non-DOR" atmosphere.

Of greater interest is Reich's description of white Orene:

"The atmospheric DOR clouds exerted an effect of gradual immobilization of life in plants and animals.  Concentrated Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) on open dishes causes a white substance, termed "white ORENE" (Oe) to settle down above the level of the fluid on the inner wall of the dish.  As long as there is fluid in the dish, Oe remains moist and harmless.  Under the microscope it displays beautifully formed 'bags' that grow, segment, expand, and are productive in many other bio-energetic ways.
    On the other hand, however, when the fluid is not replenished and the dish becomes dry, white Orene turns into a hard, white substance.  It is dead, material Life Energy, Lt: "t" denoting the function of the deadly T-bodies, discovered 1936 in my Oslo Laboratory in a culture from sarcoma tissue.  The hardened white Lt is true DOR substance.  It irritates the atmosphere; it causes inflammation of the mucous membranes; it results in T-bodies when kept, after full hardening, in water."
    — Contact With Space, part VI, pp. 152-153 [emphasis in original]
Reich seemed not to be aware that sodium hydroxide can exist not only as a liquid solution, but in a solid crystalline form as well — which would precipitate out against the side of its container as a whitish powder; which does, indeed, inflame the mucous membranes; and which could appear to "grow" under a microscope as many other crystals do when they form.  The "white Orene" need not have been anything more than crystalline lye.

A few paragraphs later, Reich showed a glaring inconsistency in his description of the color of this Lt substance — and his earlier claim that Melanor turns into Orite.  After Reich describes a tree that has succumbed to a "Melanor attack":

"Now we see the surface of the barkless stem and branches turning white.  Melanor has changed into white Orene, exactly the opposite of alive, white Orene turning black and hardening upon loss of moisture."
    — Contact With Space, part VI, p. 154
Dried, hardened Orene is what he referred to as "Lt" just a few paragraphs earlier — where he'd described Lt as a hard, white substance.  And Melanor now changes into Orene instead of Orite?  Why?  How did he know that the white substance on the tree was in fact Orene and not Orite?  How did he know that it was either, and not some other chemical that had nothing to do with either Orene or Orite?  We are expected to simply take Reich's word for it.


Melanor, Orite, Brownite, and Orene are solid chemical substances, nothing more.  The mineral origins of the first three (Melanor, Orite, and Brownite) point to simple rock exfoliation, conventional air pollution damage, or other known geological processes.  The preparation method for the fourth (Orene) speaks volumes about its probable constituency.  These substances have never been observed to come into being out of "free orgone energy," or out of anything other than materials that already contained their constituent elements; nor have they been observed to turn into each other.  And the physical effects these substances are alleged to inflict upon Reich and other observers exposed to their presence can be explained by a small dose of chemical irritation and a large dose of psychosomatic expectation.

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