Claude Rex Nowell was a practicing Mormon in Salt Lake City when he said he was visited by advanced beings from another planet, who taught him the ancient tenets of the Summum religion.
According to the faith’s Web site, Nowell was told during multiple encounters to spread the teachings of these beings, whom he called the Summa Individuals (the highest individuals). Nowell also officially changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra, but is known to many as “Corky” Ra.
Summum philosophy is based in ancient Egyptian customs, including meditation, sexual ecstasy and mummification. According to the religion’s teachings, Gnostic and early Christians drew from Summum principles, but the philosophy was lost to the Christian church, which focused more on theology than philosophy.
Founded in 1975, the Summum church claimed 150,000 members in the United States and 5,000 Canadian members as of 11 years ago. Four hundred ministers reportedly serve the church in the United States.
The Seven Aphorisms, which Summum seeks to display next to Ten Commandment monuments, are said by the faithful to have been recorded on the initial stone tablets Moses received before the Ten Commandments. They address the concepts of psychokinesis, correspondence, vibration, opposition, rhythm, cause and effect and gender.
The church Web site explains: “The first set of stone tablets was not inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Rather, they contained aphorisms of a Higher Law that held very profound and deep meanings…aphorisms that outlined principles underlying Creation and all of nature.”
Summum believes that Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the Aphorisms, but when he observed that the Israelites were incapable of understanding these principles, he destroyed the tablets. He only shared the Seven Aphorisms with his closest confidants and students.
These students passed the teachings on – supposedly developing into Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. Still, Summum believes Moses did not receive the “Grand Principle,” and therefore Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah lack the fundamental principle behind the Aphorisms and the nature of creation.
Summum’s 26-foot pyramid-shaped temple stands in a warehouse district on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, where Summum believers make their own wine called Nectar to be used during sacred ceremonies.
In 1977, the Utah Liquor Control Commission told Summum adherents to stop their wine-making practices, but after years of court hearings, the church was granted a license to produce wine for religious reasons. In 1986, the IRS finally granted Summum tax-exempt status as a religion.
Ra died in January of this year, and his body is currently undergoing the mummification process. In 2006, National Geographic recorded a video, “Dead Pets Become Modern Mummies,” detailing Summum’s mummification process, which has only been used on animals until now.
National Geographic reported that it costs $25,000 to mummify an animal, and believers speak to their pets as though they are still alive. Prior to his death, Ra had mummified his beloved Doberman pinscher, Butch, and his cat, Oscar.
The Summum Web site describes the mummification process: Following completion of the body’s sculpture, the “mummiform” is cast in either bronze, stainless steel or gold and can be decorated with gold, ceramics or jewels. Then, a “life mask” of the pet’s or human’s face is used as part of the design, and the entire mummy can be “enshrined in a mausoleum sanctuary or placed inside a family sanctuary room where it may be viewed behind glass.”
According to a report by Coastnews.com, a San Francisco Bay Area news Web site, 100 people have contracted with Summum to be mummified after death.