So much for what might pass as Corky’s obituary. What else can we learn about him?
In 2007, Jared W. Blackley, a writer for the anti-establishment Salt Lake City Weekly, did a piece on Corky titled “Ra’s Deal: If You Like Sex, Wine, Pyramids, And Egyptian Philosophy, Corky Ra Has Your Religion.” Blackley gives a physical description of his subject: medium build, late 50s, stereotype of the aging hippy, bald in front, gray hair gathered in a ponytail descending halfway down the back, calm confidence, soft voice (summum.us features a headshot of Ra with black hair but without ponytail). For this piece Blackley also interviewed Ken Sanders, one of Corky’s former colleagues at a printing press and design shop, who recalled that Corky Nowell was “a salesman who got the firm lots of job contracts but never quite got the hang of some crucial pragmatics”—for example, he made contracts for jobs that were impossible to fulfill. Corky, he said, would also come to work “carrying what he called an unbreakable ‘bonum rock’ of pink quartzite purportedly from another planet.”
Then there are the miracles Corky is said to have performed. According to sworn affidavits, he’s turned a blue sky into a rainstorm, lit a candle by staring at it, and impregnated “several fully-clothed women just by using the energy from the penis of a fully-clothed man standing on the opposite side of the room.” Most of the women escaped their unwanted state by directing their energy toward releasing their embryos, though what this “releasing” was all about is never explained.
What does Corky Ra allege happened on that day he was relaxing on his girlfriend’s couch?
Corky’s account of his revelation appears twice on the Summum website, once in a written essay, the other in an informal question-and-answer session on the subject of his first encounter with the Summa Individuals.
“References to encounters with Beings not of this planet can be found in all major philosophies and religions dating back to the beginning of recorded history,” Corky’s essay begins, without giving either examples or arguments. He then recounts his own encounter, taking care to say that before the event, he had always supposed that those who’d reported having had personal revelations were “either lying or mentally ill.” (As a backslidden Mormon, he might have been thinking of Joseph Smith.)
Several months into his meditative regimen, he says, “I began to notice a ‘ringing’ in my ears.” Then, on October 28, 1975 it happened. The noise in Corky’s ears “became very intense.” His body began to vibrate; he opened his eyes and found himself alongside “an enormous pyramid,” made of something like graphite, half a mile long at the base but without doors. Everything was quiet, and perfect. Then he noticed another structure, with “a round, convex shape, like a flattened ball,” a hundred yards in diameter. He walked through its wall and found himself in a large room full of beautiful, elegant, divine humanoids of both genders. “They established a high level telepathic link with my mind, and instantaneously I understood them.” These Beings were what he came to call the “Summa Individuals,” meaning, he informs his Latin-deprived readers, the “Highest Individuals.”
Then there were the crystals. Once inside the structure, he was shown a glass-like shaft rising from the floor. “Concepts started streaming through my mind.” As he looked at the shaft, another shaft came down from the ceiling and headed towards the back of his head. Later he learned that this shaft was crystalline, reminding him that communication occurs by way of crystals, as mentioned in the Bible, the Torah, and the Bhagavad Gita. Maybe, Corky thought, these crystals were “a contemporary Urim and Thummim.” (These were a pair of rocks used as divination devices; they are first mentioned in the Biblical book of Exodus and were later said to be used by Joseph Smith, purportedly to help him translate the Golden Plates he claimed to have discovered in the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York into The Book of Mormon.)
Corky continued to have these visitations. At first he resisted the Summa Individual’s demands, he said, but he “came to understand the nature of the work I was responsible to complete, even though I had no details of how to accomplish this task. . . . These advanced Beings work with those ready to take up the labor of universal progression and divine evolution.” Then he started to tell others of these encounters. His life was changed; he became “a well-known person,” achieved peace of mind, and came to understand Creation Itself.
At the end of this account, there is a Summum version of an altar call. To the open-minded who “have evolved far enough to understand,” etc., he promises: “You too can have the wealth of the wealthy, the fame of the famous.”
Corky’s informal talk in his pyramidal temple tells much the same story. He expands on his experience with the Summa Individuals—for example, he reports that they led him to a “piece of energy, what looked like a very large crystal came out of the floor and I looked into it and I saw all the things that were going to happen about building the pyramid and making the nectars [wines].” He anticipates skeptics who might suggest that he got all this sacred knowledge from books: before meeting the Individuals, claims the former philosophy student, “I had not read any religious or spiritual books other than the Bible and the Book of Mormon.” He reports that he struggled with the Individuals, resisting their demands to spread their gospel, though he finally succumbed because “there is no room for argument in their presence.” He also tells us that “they work with lots of people on this planet, in different states of evolution.” They have names, but they didn’t introduce themselves to him. They speak telepathically, both among themselves and with humans, but in concepts, not words.
The questions from his audience keep coming, and Corky becomes expansive. Again and again he refers to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. He says there are “lots of gods,” but that “the Creator is not a person, it is a force.” Do the Summa Individuals ever appear in this pyramid? “They are always sort of hanging around to be honest with you.” They speak to you. If you’ve committed yourself to do their bidding, they ride you to perform your appointed task, like an old-style schoolmaster or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Throughout his descriptions of his purported revelations, and elsewhere, Corky insists that he is only one of many persons who have had such experiences. “Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter . . . have reported mysterious encounters.” “My experience was very similar to Moses and many others down [to] Joseph Smith.” And “all religions have founders who had revelations.” If you believe any or all of these founders, he seems to be saying, you have no standing to doubt the truth of what he’s been taught by the Summa Individuals.
“This is what you have got to do,” the Summa Individuals instructed him. “This is what your life is all about. You have to go tell people these concepts and then go build a pyramid and make this nectar.” Thus spoke Corky Ra in a Q&A session after giving his informal talk about his first encounter with the extraterrestrials. Blackley reports that Corky also told him that those visitors from beyond also commissioned him to publish a book.
The pyramid was built near downtown Salt Lake City, adjacent to an industrial area and less than 200 feet west of the lively, jam-prone I-15 freeway, and two and a half miles from the LDS Temple as the cab flies. At the time of its construction, the roof was made of asphalt roofing tiles topped off with a stainless steel cap. The asphalt was later replaced by an attractive copper-colored metal. The sides of the pyramid are 40 feet long; its cap juts 26 feet into the empyrean. The website invites the general public to a Wednesday evening one-hour philosophy class. Saturdays there are “Evenings with Amen Ra,” when the works of Corky Ra are read and discussed by those who have some knowledge of the house brand of meditation. Blackley, writing before Corky was transferred to the mummy state, reported that the regular Saturday meetings drew as many as 10 to 15 Summum supporters.
Inside this temple there are texts from the Quran, the Hebrew Bible, and The Book of Mormon. As of February 2009, there were mummies of 50 animals but only of a single human—Corky himself, who at the time was in the final stages of mummification, just before being encased in a custom-made $40,000 golden bronze “mummiform,” the Summum version of a casket.
In Summum, mummification, as in ancient Egyptian religion, is life after life. The body is transformed, but the “essence”—apparently the equivalent of what is commonly called the soul—of the individual remains. “In mummification,” the website tells us, “the preserved body serves as a reference point for your essence, a ‘home base’ if you will that allows communication of instructions to help guide you to your new destination.” Or, as Blackley puts it, “the person wandering suddenly finds a Global Positioning System in his pocket.”
Then there are the sacramental nectars. The temple also boasts several wine vats, each one large enough to fill the flatbed of a good-sized truck. Summum calls the nectars “publications” because they contain spiritual information and concepts. They are used in meditation by those who have learned how to meditate in the patented Summum manner. The instructions are given on a webpage. The Summum disciple is to start with one or two ounces of nectar. The alcohol in it “acts as a vehicle for transporting the concepts that are stored as a form of energy or resonation within the liquid.” Once inside the brain, “the resonations are released exposing you to the concepts that are held within.” The result? If you continue to use them, your perception will be changed. (One might wonder: if Corky’s first wife had had long-term access to this beverage, could that marriage have been saved?)
On the Summum webpage called “The Summum Nectar Publications,” we find Summum’s version of the New Age theory of chemical reactions: “Crystals will form inside the nectar when it is stored inside the pyramid.” This version also holds that there are currently just nine of a future 27 different nectars (for example, Transformation, Song of Creation, and Sexual Ecstasy), each of which bears its own message for those who use it often and consistently and are sensitive to “deeper values of life.” All in all, the page concludes, the creation of these publications “is a wonder of transubstantiation,” a process that gives new meaning to that Catholic doctrine.
Not everyone who has used these beverages adheres to their intended purpose. Ken Sanders, the one who once worked in a printing firm with Summum Bonum Amen Ra—then in his Corky Nowell incarnation—and who now owns a Salt Lake City bookshop dedicated to antiquarian tomes (“Ken Sanders Rare Books: ‘creating chaos out of anarchy for a better tomorrow’”), is reported to have said about the liquid, “I wished I’d saved a bottle of it. 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.”