June 11th, 2010
12:32 PM ET

Summum: Homegrown spiritual group, in news and in a pyramid

Inside a copper-colored pyramid off Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the late founder of a homegrown spiritual group called Summum stands encased in his $40,000 specially commissioned bronze mummiform.

Around Corky Ra, who died in January 2008 at 63, are mummified cats and dogs, some pictured above – the beloved pets of his and those who’ve subscribed to the Summum philosophy he created.

At least that’s what was there the last time I checked. I learned about Summum when I was covering religion for The Salt Lake Tribune. When I first showed up hoping to interview Ra, I found out he was dead and inside the pyramid, floating in a vat of mummification fluids.

Outside the pyramid are the grave markers of those who died before mummification of humans became part of Summum’s practice. Ra, in fact, was the first to go through the process.

One marker outside is for Michael Burdell, a 36-year-old attorney who was shot and killed in 1985 by Ronnie Lee Gardner as he attempted to escape a Salt Lake City courthouse.

Gardner is scheduled to be executed by firing squad on June 18, and friends of Burdell – some who are affiliated with Summum – have come forward, saying Gardner’s death is not what their friend would have wanted.

So what is Summum?

Summum is “about an ongoing progression of the soul and discovery of that, of what’s in you,” one of the group’s officers, Sue Menu (whose legal name is Summum Bonum Neffer Menu) told me last year, after I’d come to CNN. “I’ve become a stronger person because of it. I don’t see how anybody can come to the conclusion that that’s bad.”

In the 1970s, a man by the name of Claude “Corky” Rex Nowell, who’d been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claimed to have had encounters with “advanced beings.” He wrote about the experiences in his book, “Summum: Sealed Except to the Open Mind.”

To those who follow his teachings, the idea that he would have been visited by some higher power is no more outrageous than the claims of any other religious leader.

He created the religious community in 1975, and five years later legally changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra - though he still went by Corky.

In basic terms, Summum is a belief system or a way of life that follows meditations (many in a language not spoken by those who recite them), incorporates the use of sacramental wine and practices its own brand of “mummification and transference.” This practice, they say, helps guide the soul of the living into its next lifetime.

Summum is not a formal church. It does not require attendance at services, and the meditations, once learned, can be practiced individually. Some meditations are recited in English, and one – the Meditation of Sexual Ecstasy – is less spoken than it is acted out between lovers.

Practitioners “believe in one source,” Menu said, “But we just don’t label it as God. We just call it creation. We call it Summum,” which is a Latin term meaning “the sum of all creation.”

Religious texts of all kinds – the Quran, the Hebrew Bible and The Book of Mormon – are in the pyramid, as are a number of Buddhas, all of which serve as testament to Summum’s acceptance and inclusion of all spiritual philosophies.

Menu estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of people around the world had tapped into Summum’s teachings, which are broadcast online. As of February 2009, about 1,500 people from across the globe and all different religious backgrounds had requested Summum’s mummification arrangements through their funeral homes, according to Ron Temu – a licensed funeral director and good friend of Burdell, the man killed by Gardner.

The group made headlines in recent years when it pushed to erect a monument listing Summum’s seven guiding principles, or aphorisms, in a Utah municipal park that has long displayed a monument for the Ten Commandments. The Seven Aphorisms are the principles of psychokinesis, correspondence, vibration, opposition, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender.

In a 2007 ruling, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado, said free speech guaranteed Summum the right to erect its monument. But the U.S. Supreme Court agreed unanimously in February 2009 with the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah, which argued that displays on public property, privately donated or otherwise, are “government speech” and are under the discretion of officials.

“We’re one humanity, but we all have our path and we all have our experiences,” Menu once told me. “We’re not weirdos. We’re just normal people trying to follow a spiritual path. ... We aren’t mainstream, that’s for sure, but so what? There are so many people who are fed up with [the mainstream] anyway.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Courts • Culture & Science

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soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. BrankoB

    To choose not to believe is the easy way out.

    June 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • peace2all


      Hi BrankoB ! I am sincerely curious as to your post. Please explain....



      July 29, 2010 at 7:08 am |
  2. david

    To even begin a discussion debating the existence of God, it is first necessary to clearly define the term itself. Amazingly, you will find that few individuals have any more enlightened idea than that of a bearded old man floating in the clouds. That won't cut it in a modern world. So until you can do better than that, consider yourself too ill prepared to even bring up the topic.

    June 15, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  3. Cieje3

    RELIGION saves nobody who follows it.
    JESUS saves those who genuinely seek him.
    PEOPLE are evil.
    GOD is a gentleman.
    SATAN hates people.
    That's about it in a nutshell..

    June 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gary

      what about children born in jewish families,hindu familes,muslim families buddist families,native Americans, and groups of folks all over the world never associated with Judeo-Christianity religion.....Your assesment of God and salvation is flawed and makes no sense to me..

      June 15, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  4. YepUhuh

    Christianity started off as a cult....its all based on Ancient Egyptian beliefs...Heru/Horus=Gods Sun=Jesus=Yeshua...horizon=horus is risen....easter is the celebration of the equinox, and christmas is a celebration of the sun moving higher in the sky as it reaches its lowest point all year...December 22-24th....it begins to rise "from the dead" on the 25th...."jesus" learned at the Egyptian Mystery Schools check the lost books for more info...and @Unbeliever Girl youre right they drink the blood and eat the flesh of another person....it does sound evil but since they look nice when they do it and its daytime its not considered in the mind of a christian that this ancient ritual could be "evil" or similar to satanic rites

    June 14, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • curious in mo

      Our Sunday School class is actually starting a study of "The Lost Books of the Bible". We don't use a curriculum, we just get together and discuss the topic that interest us.
      If you don't mind, could you please tell me the specific "lost books" you are talking about? There are so many of them that we have had a difficult time even figuring out where to start. We finally decided to start with the ones that are mentioned in the Bible, but not included in the Bible.
      I would be interested in reading the ones you are talking about.

      June 15, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  5. a reader dec

    Unbeliever Girl People accuse Christianity of being full of hate and causing wars and persecution but look at history. Most of the basis for hospitals, orphanages and work with the poor come from the idea that all persons are created by God and are the children of God. Women were treated better by Christianity than by the other religions of that day. Unfortunately there have been persons who have abused the name Christian and failed to live up to the command to love God and to love others as they love themselves. But that is not the fault of Christianity, rather it is human sinfulness coming through. The desire for power or greed or fame has twisted many a person.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  6. Houris

    There is an Old story that explains religion, and it goes something like this,...5 Blind men were lead into a room with an elephant, One blind man at the rear of the Elephant claimed it was like a snake, holding the elephants tail. Another, feeling the Elephants ear said NO! it's more like the wing of a Bat. Another claimed they were both wrong and it was more like a tree, reaching around the elephants leg. Yet another claimed it was more like a Wall, feeling the elephants side,..and so on.
    the true point of the story is that they were all right within thier own understanding of the elephant, only they spent thier time arguing over who was right, when if they would spent thier time comparing notes and showing consideration they ALL would have true understanding of God,..err,..the elephant.

    One God
    One people
    One Law
    Do No Harm

    Be well,

    June 14, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  7. Scrumpwell

    Makes as much sense as any other religion, which is to say not much.

    June 14, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  8. Robert

    Just another rewrite of a dead (Egyptian) religion. Can't accept an existing religion, so you make up your own and include everyone else's religious doctrines so you'll have some measure of acceptance.

    June 13, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
    • YepUhuh

      christianity is based on the Ancient Egyptian religion....btw its not dead. it will always be alive as long as the sun continues to rise in the east and set in the west....christianity is sun worship....horus is the original jesus and horus is the sun..thats why the pope changed the holy day to SUNDAY. a good example of the matrix

      June 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • YepUhuh

      also notice the hats the pope wears and then go look at the Pharaohs head wear....the bowling pin looking hat.....its alllll SUN worship...thats why EASTER is celebrated on the first sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox......from astronomy to geometry/algebra to metaphysics to religion Ancient Egypt is to be thanked. Even Plato admits that he was like a child at the feet of the Ancient Egyptians(KMT) (not the same as modern Egyptians)

      June 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  9. Reality

    Joe Smith is not happy. Nor is Brigham Young. Nor is today's "prophet"!!!

    June 13, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  10. Mary Elizabeth Schipke

    On the Spiritual Path, some persons are further down the road than others! Some have not even started the journey, some are still at the beginning, while a few others have already reached Enlightenment. All religions speak in "symbolism" (each translation should reflect this knowledge.) Unfortunately, some unenlightened persons "read" the "symbols" incorrectly and wind up mistranslating the whole meaning of the message. Here is the main problem behind Holy Wars! Ignorance causes hatred which causes wars which causes untimely deaths which prevents Enlightenment which causes the need for reincarnation (to be born again and again until one finally GETS the "big picture.") Evolve........

    June 12, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • Ignorance is truth

      There is no spiritual path, only reality. Stop following the yellow brick road. If there is an afterlife how can anything we do in this life effect our place in it?
      Faith=Blinding fear of the unknown

      June 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  11. Christy

    To offset the Christian bashing: I love Christianity and I love the sacraments, ie eating the Corpus Christi. I love hope and redemption and faith and striving to follow Christ. I love the smells and bells of the liturgy, that the incense can be likened to an aromatic prayer ascending to God in Heaven, and having faith that God has indeed blessed the Holy water. I know that the love of Christ will always abound, as the faithful have pronounced His name for over 2,000 years now.

    June 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  12. davec

    As an atheist I think I can say that this religion is no more weird than the others. They are all fairy tales. There is no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, and no God.

    June 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  13. Pete

    No more absurd than talking bushes, vengeful gods, and creation from ribs. If you're laughing at this you need to look at the absurdity of your own beliefs objectively, but very few are actually able to do that. Most people are too full of bovine fecal matter.

    June 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.