Corky Ra is a man of medium build in his late 50s who looks like the stereotype of an aging hippy. His hair in the front is mostly gone. What hair he has is gray and thin and hangs in a ponytail halfway down his back. He advances a calm but confident air. He speaks in a somewhat hushed, slightly effeminate voice, occasionally dragging a few words here and there for emphasis.
He is not the type of person most would pick out of a crowd. But some people have signed sworn affidavits claiming to have seen him perform “miracles.” They have allegedly seen him turn a blue sky into a rainstorm, cry tears of blood after a dear friend was shot in the face and killed, light a candle just by looking at it and even perform sexual intercourse with and impregnate several fully-clothed women at once just by using the energy from the penis of a fully-clothed man standing on the opposite side of the room. All but one of the women, however, were able to direct their energy and “release” the babies from their wombs.
Ra himself claims to maintain occasional contact with “advanced beings” who “come attired in nothing but their naked, innocent forms.” It was the “advanced beings,” whom he refers to as “Summa Individuals,” who commissioned him to build a pyramid in his backyard. They also told him to produce “Nectar Publications” (or wine transformed through psychokinesis to perform a certain religious function), to publish a book, to mummify pets and people who consent before they die and to found a religious organization—Summum—based upon what they teach him. This religion also emphasizes the abundant practice of sex as sanctimonious meditation.
I am meeting Ra at the Summum pyramid, which measures 1,600 square-feet at its base. It’s a little after 7:30 p.m. Whenever possible, Ra prefers to call it a night by seven, then wake up around 2:30 a.m. to work out at the gym. Shaking hands, I thank him for agreeing to meet with me at this late hour. He smiles and invites me into the pyramid to chat. The door is about five feet wide and opens vertically. As soon as it opens, a cat runs inside. The inside is fairly cluttered. In the center of the room are five or six large white couches positioned in the shape of a large U so, when the room is full, everyone sits facing each other. A few feet inside the door stand two mummiforms—body-shaped metal containers for mummified remains—of a cat and dog. A few toy mice for the cats are on the floor. Ra offers me a seat on the couch and pulls up a chair for himself. He sits back in it, slouching, comfortable, informal.
“I hope you don’t mind cats,” he said. I have one, I tell him. Summum has taken in and spayed or neutered more than 30 homeless cats. They’ve adopted out all but two. In the winter, a few raccoons and two skunks call the Summum property home. There are also five peafowl plucking around in the backyard.
“We hold all animals in high regard,” Ra said. We talk for a few minutes on the interesting habits of house cats, before getting into the details of Summum.
From Nowell to Ra
In 1974, Corky Ra was known by his given name, Claude Rex Nowell. He lived with his wife and two children in a home built for him by his father located at the foot of Mount Olympus. He held a bachelor’s degree in business and was working as a manager at United States Welding in Salt Lake City. He was a member of the LDS faith, had served a mission and married in one of its temples. He was, more or less, the typical, well-to-do local Mormon businessman.
But his job was keeping him on the edge. He’d often come home from work tense and stressed. He’d walk in the door, give his wife a hello kiss, perhaps give his kids a hug and kiss or pat on the head and make some enthusiastic comment about one of their recent crayon drawings, then immediately retreat to the just-finished den in the basement, where he could relax.
Relaxing, for Nowell, meant sitting on a sofa, putting a towel over his head and zoning out the world. Breath in. Breath out. Maintain a steady rhythm. Focus on the breathing; ignore everything else. He said it was only later he discovered that he was meditating. Initially, this realization frightened him.
“Back then,” he said, “meditation had bad connotations to the Mormon mind.”
He said his wife did not agree with this practice and thought it was making him strange. He continued with his meditations regardless and began to fall away from his church. He and his wife drifted apart and were divorced within the year. He then moved into an apartment, got a less stressful but higher-paying job and continued his meditations. Soon he noticed a “real high frequency” in his ears. Before long, he began to think the pitch, which he considers to be a “high energy,” was not coming from his ears but his mind. He eventually came to the conclusion that it was not coming from his mind at all but, as he said, “on the other side of my mind, in my essence.”
Zoning in on that frequency and zoning out everything else became the focus of his meditations. And by Oct. 29, 1975, he had become excellent at it. He said it was while meditating that night he was first contacted by the advanced beings he would later refer to as the “Summa Individuals.”
“[The high energy] became very intense,” writes Ra of this first encounter with the Summa Individuals. “Suddenly, I was totally engulfed by the sound, every cell of my body [was] vibrating. It seemed as if the sound was coming from both outside and inside of me simultaneously. It was completely encompassing.”
Opening his eyes, he said he found himself standing in front of a pyramid that was a little less than 7 million square feet at its base. Still calm, he began to walk around it. When he reached the north side, he noticed another structure. He said it looked like a flattened ball and was roughly 100 yards in diameter. “I felt compelled to walk through its wall,” he writes. And so through the wall he went.
The Summa Individuals were inside. “They began to plant information into my head,” he said, suddenly sitting up in his chair. “But they did it telepathically, with concepts and not words, and using a large crystal.” Then, as suddenly as he had been teleported, he was back on his couch.
“I thought I had gone crazy,” he said. “I thought maybe some guys at work had dosed me with LSD. I’d never tried LSD.”
During his next session of meditation, however, he claims to have again been teleported up to the Summa Individuals, who began to call on him frequently. By the end of 1975, he had developed enough appreciation for and understanding of the concepts being taught to him that, following the Summa Individuals’ instructions, he went to the IRS, applied to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and founded Summum. “We called ourselves a philosophy,” Ra said, “but the IRS called us a church.”
Nowell, who would legally change his name to Ra in 1980, built a small pyramid at a friend’s house, both of which have since been torn down, and began telling anyone interested about his experiences and Summum. In 1977, Summum formed a student organization at the University of Utah and, for the next two years, held weekly night classes on campus. During this time, Ra claims, nearly 20,000 people became members.
In 1997, Summum reported in The Encyclopedia of American Religions to have 150,000 members living in the United States and groups in 34 countries worldwide. There seems to be no way of independently verifying these membership numbers. Ra wouldn’t open his membership records, and the Encyclopedia of American Religions relies on facts and figures supplied by religions and churches nationwide.
Today, claims Ra, Summum has more than 200,000 members worldwide. One of these is Bernie Aua, a 44-year-old Webmaster from Salt Lake City.
“I had come out of the theater after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Aua writes in his e-mail, “and I found a business card on my windshield [that] invited me to [one of Summum’s presentations at the University of Utah.]” He attended and was impressed. Within the year he was a member of Summum, and by 1982, he had become very involved in the organization. Today he maintains and updates the organization’s Website, summum.org.
Summum no longer uses such techniques in hopes of finding new members. Instead, it states in the organization’s book, Summum: Sealed Except to the Open Mind, that people who are spiritually ready find Summum.
One person who found Summum this way is Shad Krueger, a 27-year-old assistant manager at a local title company. It was roughly 11 years ago that a friend lent him Summum.
“I read [Summum] and didn’t think much about it,” Krueger writes in an e-mail. “The book seemed pretty straightforward and the ideas seemed rather simplistic, initially. However, over the next six months or so, I gradually found myself describing and examining life in ways that directly related to the ideas presented in it. Finally, I decided to pick it up again and … to my amazement, it was like a whole new book. Suddenly there was depth and breadth to the ideas that I had completely missed the first time.”
Eventually, Krueger attended one of Summum’s Thursday night open discussions. He pulled his car up to the Summum property and was a bit “stunned and intrigued” to find the pyramid in the yard. He walked up to the pyramid and found a note instructing visitors to knock on the door. “So,” he wrote, “[I] knocked on the door and it opened into a room that had about 20 people all sitting on couches and in a circle, involved in a discussion.” He began regularly attending discussions and became a member less than two years later.
“I feel what I learn from Summum assists me in my personal (spiritual) evolution,” he continues.
Ra and his Summum religion have attained a sort of cult status apart from the definitions of “cult following.” Local filmmaker Trent Harris, himself the director of several cult feature films that include Rubin and Ed and Plan 10 From Outer Space, included Summum in his book Mondo Utah: A Collection of Extreme Weirdness From the Land of Zion.
“Anybody who mummifies cats is definitely mondo, and I loved the fact that they made their own wine and had a pyramid for a church,” Harris said. “I’ve been over there [Ra’s house] a couple of times. I thought it was great. I wish there were more pyramids in Utah, but bigger ones.”
Ken Sanders, owner of Sanders Rare Books in downtown Salt Lake City, remembers Ra in the days when he went by the last name of Nowell. Sanders, Nowell and a handful of others worked long hours from 1971 to 1975 at a printing press and design firm that’s since gone out of business. Sanders remembers Ra as a salesman who got the firm lots of job contracts but never quite got the hang of some crucial pragmatics.
“The story I remember best is about [the manager] trying to tell Corky that the printing press is only 19 inches wide, because he was always selling these impossibly difficult jobs we could never print,” Sanders said. “I don’t know that Corky ever understood limitations of any kind.”
Then something changed inside Nowell. He came to work carrying what he called an unbreakable “bonum rock” of pink quartzite purportedly from another planet, Sanders said. Then Nowell started mimeographing his Summum newsletter in large quantities.
“We just thought he was pulling our leg, but he was taking [Summum] more and more seriously,” Sanders said.
The Beginnings of the Universe
Summum’s philosophy borrows wisdom from numerous different cultures and religions, but the vast majority derives from ancient Egypt. Summum believes that ancient Egypt was the last place on earth to possess a near complete record of the “principles of creation,” including the Primordial Scission, or the beginnings of the universe. Summum draws from a large reservoir of Egyptian vitalist philosophy, which holds that mind and matter are one.
These principles were, according to Summum, given to the Egyptians by a group of highly-evolved beings—Summa Individuals—known in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as “Neters.” There is not much written about these Neters. Dr. Ewa Wasilewska, an anthropologist at the University of Utah and an expert on the cultural practices of ancient Egypt, had never heard of them.
Perusing the indexes of seven books on the subject of ancient Egypt revealed just one mention of Neters. According to British Egyptologist John Anthony West (whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Conde Nast Traveler, among other publications), “[In Egyptian vitalist philosophy] there could be no distinction between mind and matter: Both were understood as aspects of a single scheme. Only the Primordial Scission was unknowable; all else devolved from this event in terms of functions, principles and processes, and were comprehensible in terms of number and communicable (in Egypt) in terms of the Neters (the so-called ‘gods’) whose attributes, gestures, size and position altered according to the role played within any given situation.”
“Summum believes there are beings that have evolved further than the human species,” Ra said, “and that once in awhile they assist our planet in evolution.” But these beings aren’t necessarily from another planet, nor do they come beaming down from the skies in flying saucers intent on probing country folk.
Beginning with the god Amun Ra, who physically dwelt on the earth around 5,000 years ago, said Ra, the ancient Egyptians developed a metaphor to explain the creation of the universe. Summum calls this “the most divine of all metaphors.” It has God behaving in a way that is typically ascribed to hormone-frenzied teenagers.
“All things have both a male and female gender within them,” Ra said. “Both you and I have a female and male spirit, but are in male bodies. What God did is, she took her female hand and put it on his male phallus.” How long he/she remained playing with his/herself is unclear, but the end result was the beginning of the universe.
But according to Ra, this event would not have been possible without a third component, a bond. And the bond between two opposites is copulation. “All matter is vibration and is constantly copulating,” Ra said. “The bond-making and bond-breaking is an orgasm.” To Summum, everything is a form of sexual intercourse. When nothing and possibility copulate, there arrives spirit. And to Summum, the awakening to one’s spirit is true religion.
Ra maintains that meditation is one of the simplest and most effective ways to awaken to one’s spirit. This practice is essential to the Summum philosophy, for without it the Summa Individuals perhaps never would have contacted Ra.
“My practice of the meditation,” writes Aua, “allows me to gain evolving levels of appreciation and understanding of the information [Summum presents]. And most importantly, the meditation and philosophy has enabled me to understand myself in a way that would be hard to describe. It has given me the ability to commune with my esoteric nature.”
I can’t help but notice that Ra remains slouched in a chair when he demonstrates how he was meditating while first contacted by the Summa Individuals. Another difference between the two is that prior to meditation, members of Summum consume small amounts of a Nectar Publication—so called because it is said to “contain spiritual concepts and information.” The type of nectar one ingests depends on the meditation he or she plans to do. These nectars, asserts Summum, come from “an ancient pre-Egyptian formula,” have been imbued through psychokinesis and so “have vibrations (resonations) placed within the quanta particles of their substance which, when consumed by the student, cause the mind, body, and spirit to resonate with these same vibrations.” But, according to Summum, for these nectars to be properly imbued “with the concepts of nature that they carry, they must be created in the proper environment.” This proper environment is within a pyramid, which, because of its mathematical design, serves as a symbolic womb of creation.
When Summum first began producing the nectars in 1979, said Ra, the Utah Liquor Control Committee (ULCC) immediately shut down the practice until Summum received a federal license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Both ULCC and the ATF considered Summum’s nectars to be wine, and it was then illegal in Utah for anyone to produce wine from grapes he or she did not personally grow. A quarter of a million dollars later, said Ra, Summum obtained that license and, after much grief, the right from the ULCC to produce nectars. But it was not legal in Utah for anyone to sell Utah-produced wine until Anita Bradford, a Mormon and then owner of Arches Winery in Moab, won that right in 1991. Summum claims the state still does not allow it to either sale or accept donations for its nectar, nor can members—except those in Colorado—receive nectar through the mail. If a member wants nectar that was fermented at the Summum property in Salt Lake City, she or he has to arrive in person to pick it up. To date, Summum has only produced seven of the expected 27 types of Nectar Publications.
Sanders, who lost track of Ra long ago, still remembers the famous Summum wine. “I wished I’d saved a bottle of it,” he said. “I used to buy it and take it on camping trips. Even though it wasn’t very good, it was a great novelty item. A wine made by a UFO-pyramid cult in Utah is pretty hard to beat.”
In 1989, Ra was biding his time between Salt Lake City and Orange County, Calif., teaching Summum meditations and aerobics in both places. On one particular day in California, Ra met a woman after class in the parking lot, having problems with her car. Her name was Grace. Within the year she and Ra would be married. The ceremony took place in the Summum pyramid and was officiated by Summum member Sue Menu.
Grace is the love of Ra’s life. It is both his and her second “and last” marriage, he said. They are completely committed to each other and, said Ra, express that commitment and love daily with one of Summum’s key meditations, sexual ecstasy.
To Summum, ecstasy is “the state of union with God.” This meditation, said Ra, comes from ancient Egypt. It is an older and supposedly more venerable wisdom than that found in the Tantra or Kama Sutra. In many ways, their teachings are similar; but while all stress a deep communication between the people making love, Summum also recommends frequently—always, if possible—watching one’s partner masturbate before coitus in order to see how and where to best stimulate him or her. It recommends having at least an hour of foreplay before performing actual intercourse, and emphasizes a liberal application of the lubricant “Merh” to both partners’ genitalia, which should be shaved as, Summum claims, “ultimate joy will only be felt when you are shaved.” In fact, Summum produces its own “Merh,” which is available for sale at local Blue Boutique stores.
In some ways, it seems to make coition a systematic exercise, a sort of clock-work ceremony that, when done according to the blueprints, allows a couple to reach “a level of permanent sexual ecstasy.” In Summum’s book Sexual Ecstasy, which is also said to have derived from “the Masters” of ancient Egypt, there is little mention of the joys adherent to wildness and spontaneity. Nonetheless, it is the goal rather than the means that is important to Summum. Sexual Ecstasy is simply a pathway designed for one to easier reach the goal, which, again, is to fully awaken oneself to his or her spirit.
But Summum does not consider spiritual evolution to be confined to this life alone. After death, the organization asserts, “you remain capable of feelings and are very much aware of the incidents taking place, for you see, your ATTENTION remains intact.” This situation, they say, is frightening. The spirit still exists, but has no familiar point of reference. No matter where one turns, it all looks the same. It is mainly for this reason that Summum provides mummification for both pets and people. When people are buried or cremated, claims Summum, it leaves their souls to fend for themselves; but mummification “serves as a reference point for your soul, allowing communication of instructions that will help guide you to your new destination. This can alleviate much of the fear, anxiety, and confusion that you would normally experience.” In other words, the person wandering suddenly finds a Global Positioning System in his or her pocket.
Summum began practicing mummification in the early 1980s, soon after one of Ra’s cats died of feline leukemia. But, of course, mummification is nothing new. And though it is a practice typically associated with ancient Egypt, mummies have been found throughout the world. Summum claims that many Buddhists, the early Jews and even Christians once practiced mummification until 400 A.D., when theocratic Christianity led occidental cultures into the Dark Ages. According to National Geographic’s The Mummy Road Show, the oldest-known mummies were found along the Peruvian coast and date to around 5,000 B.C., a little more than 2,000 years before the oldest mummy yet discovered in Egypt.
But today mummification is rare. In fact, Summum claims to be the only organization in the world to offer modern mummification, which consists of mummification of the body, transference—a sort of blessing that assists the spirit in its rite of passage from life to death—and the possibility of later cloning one’s DNA so the spirit has a fresh and living body in which to incarnate and continue its spiritual evolution. This latter practice, which Summum believes was first performed in ancient Egypt, is known as “sumsoshoeugenics” and, alleges Summum, may explain the “immaculate conception” of Jesus.
But Summum does not perform mummification on only its members. Though religiously significant to Summum, it offers mummification to anyone (or anyone’s pets) as an alternative to being cremated or becoming worm food and fertilizer. And, says Ra, Summum’s ritual of transference can be done according to whatever religion one belongs. After mummification and transference, one’s body will be transported to the mausoleum of one’s choice. Summum is currently drawing plans for an underground mausoleum on its property. Construction should begin next summer and sepulchers should be calling the finished product home by the fall of 2004.
From The Kybalion to Summum
Many people might find the teachings of Summum to be absurdly contrived, arguing, for instance, that its book Summum: Sealed Except to the Open Mind is more or less an extensive paraphrase of the Kybalion, which is a book of ancient hermetic teachings. While the seven principles of the Kybalion obviously comprise the vertebrate of Summum, the latter does also contain a few original teachings. The Yogi Publication Society, an affiliate of the Chicago Masonic Society, first published the Kybalion in 1912. The editors were known only as “the three initiates.” The aphorisms contained in the book are typically attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, who is often considered “the father of occult wisdom” and was known in ancient Egypt as Thoth, “the god of the scribes.” The teachings contained in the Kybalion passed from his lips to the student’s ears; from master to pupil for countless generations, being kept occult and taught to only a select few until, of course, it was finally published.
Accordingly, Summum is copyrighted as a “derivative work,” which essentially means it is a new version of an old work. Summum would say “it is a continuation of a never-ending story.” The book is not attributed to any author, but to the “workings of creation itself,” and Summum doesn’t consider its contents to be occult.
Many people would beg to argue. But to whatever Summum’s teachings may amount in the end, the fact remains that Summum seems to at least offer its members a solid foundation on which to base their lives and a point from which to progress further along in pursuit of that oft elusive state of peace and happiness. And who, especially in this land of liberty, would argue against one finding means to make his or her life seemingly abundant?