Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Curious Case IV

It would seem that Corky Ra has been caught with a hand in the cookie jar of plagiarism. But the accused deserves his day in court.

Take the webpage entitled, “SUMMUM and The Kybalion,” which is attributed to Corky under his venerable honorific. Here we find what amounts to a case for his innocence: “Summum . . . rewrites the information found in The Kybalion in a manner more appropriate for our modern era. It also presents new material not found in The Kybalion, thus giving a complete and more indepth outline of an age old philosophy. The US Copyright Office considers Summum . . . a ‘derivative work,’ while from a broader perspective, it is a continuation of a neverending story.”

In addition to this defense, there is, on the webpage “The Pendulum of Pleasure and Pain,” a transcription of a tape of one of Corky’s informal talks. Among other things, he says that “in the Kybalion, there is a little comment, and you can see the guys that put it in there, they slipped in this little comment and it doesn’t belong in the book at all. It has been passed down for tens of thousands of years and these guys did their own interpretation of it . . . and in one paragraph they say something like, we cannot have any immorality in society like if you saw some frontal nudity on cable TV and stuff it would be the worst thing you could do, and to condone anything like that would be a person not on the path and stuff like that. I thought, ‘Jesus! These guys really got a lot of balls to put something like that in this kind of book!’ It came from no where and there are a lot of them in there, and they are personal opinions from the commentator, and you sort of have to look over them and look for the deep truth that is in the book that has been passed down for thousands of years.”

It appears, then, that Corky’s defense against the charge of plagiarism can be said to begin with his confession that he has “rewritten” what he and his brain trust—Su Menu, Bernie Aua, and Ron Temu—like to call “our little book,” then proceeds to offer a set of arguments:

(1) The truths of The Kybalion are nothing new, having been embraced by such ancients as Adam, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed, all of whom have been taught by “the angelic beings”;

(2) The earlier book lacks an account of the “Principle of Creation,” which SUMMUM supplies;

(3) The earlier book needed updating to a more contemporary style; and

(4) The Kybalion also contains mistakes consisting of The Three Initiates’ inclusion of their “personal opinions,” which needed to be excised from theSUMMUM edition.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Curious Case, etc. III

Summum Bonum Amen Ra’s SUMMUM: Sealed Except to the Open Mind finally appeared in 1988, 13 years after his first meeting with the extraterrestrials. It sets forth the Summum philosophy in 18 chapters, an Introduction, and, in the e-book version, an Epilogue, all in just 126 pages. As of this writing, it’s available in hardcover, courtesy of Amazon, for $499.94 (used: $450). It can also be downloaded for $1.62; those who are neither believers nor rare book collectors can choose to read it on a Kindle, a computer screen, or an iPad.

Amen Ra begins with an acknowledgement of one Anu Aua’s aid in editing and structuring the book and in making the information online-ready. In the Introduction, he dedicates the book to the Summa Individuals, after which he advises the seeker that SUMMUM is “a master key which may open the many esoteric doors to Creation.” Continuing on, the reader learns that “Recorded history is replete with masters, Adam, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed having been taught by the angelic beings.” The Principles set forth in the book, he tells us, “are the basic underlying foundation of all existence.” Then comes a bold, even presumptuous, statement: “The student of comparative religion will be able to perceive the influence of the Eternal Principles in every known religion, whether it be a dead religion or a living one.”

In the first chapter, “The Summum Philosophy,” we come across such undocumented statements as: “All nations have borrowed from the inheritance of Egypt” (this explains, of course, the pyramid and the mummies) and “Even the teachings of the Gnostic and Early Christians drew their roots from the Summum Principles.”

What are these Summum Principles? They are the seven aphorisms, which are set forth in Chapter Three:
1. Psychokinesis: “SUMMUM is MIND; the universe is a mental creation.”
2. Correspondence: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”
3. Vibration: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”
4. Opposition: “Everything is dual; everything has an opposing point. . . .”
5. Rhythm: “Everything flows out and in; everything has its season. . . .”
6. Cause and Effect: “Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause. . . .
7. Gender: “Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles. . . .”

Then there is the Epilogue. In this last part of the book, Corky Ra is referred to in the third person; on the last page we learn that the author of this end section is (Summum Bonum) Anu Aua—the same man who had helped Summum Bonum Amen Ra by editing and giving structure to the book. This Epilogue begins with a statement of the First Law of Thermodynamics (“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change from one form to another”), which is then tied to the concept of reincarnation, which in turn leads to a mention of Summum’s practice of Mummification and Transference—all in one short paragraph.

This is followed by a story about Ron Temu, a Southern California dockworker and Corky’s former college buddy who, starting in 1979, began making periodic pilgrimages to Salt Lake City to hear his old friend make presentations. “Around 1983,” the story goes, “Ron came across a book he found at the Bodhi Tree bookstore . . . in West Hollywood . . . called The Kybalion, by Three Initiates.” He bought it and read it that same day. “It complemented and confirmed the information he received at Corky’s presentations.” Naturally, Ron informed Corky, who, according to Anu Aua, “had never heard of the book,” though it “re-affirmed the things Corky had been initiated into during his divine encounters.”

A quick trip to Amazon Books shows that there are many editions of The Kybalion; it was first published in 1908 and has long been out of copyright. The e-book version can be downloaded for $1.25. Paperback copies are available for less than $10; there are no rare-book prices.

A casual comparison of The Kybalion with SUMMUM shows that the older book is not just a complement to Corky Ra’s. It is a close paraphrase—devilishly so—or, as someone skeptical of extraterrestrial visits and less polite might say, a crib.

The first thing a reader notices is the similarity of the chapter titles. SUMMUM has 18 chapters, not including the Introduction and the Epilogue. The Kybalion has 15, with an Introduction but no Epilogue. Of the titles of the 15 chapters, there is almost an exact accord. Some of the Kybalion chapters are merely modified (e.g., “Hermetic Philosophy” becomes “The Summum Philosophy”; “Seven Hermetic Principles” becomes “Seven Summum Principles”), while others are exactly the same (e.g., “The Mental Universe,” “The Divine Paradox” “Vibration”). Summum has three chapters not in the original: “Creation,” “Psychokinesis,” and “Meditation.”

The phraseology is also similar. Items:

Kybalion: They (the Initiates) reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect. . . .

SUMMUM: These pearls of wisdom are for the few. . . . 

Kybalion: The Hermetists have never sought to be martyrs.

SUMMUM: Contrary to popular opinion, these initiates have never sought to become martyrs.

Kybalion: So it was with the Hermetic Teachings of the Gnostics and Early Christians, which were lost at the time of Constantine, whose iron hand smothered philosophy with the blanket of theology. . . .

SUMMUM: Even the teachings of the Gnostic and Early Christians drew their roots from the Summum Principles. Unfortunately, these same teachings were lost at the time of Constantine whose iron hand smothered philosophy with its blanket of theology.

Kybalion: [T]he Hermetic Philosophy is the only Master Key which will open all the doors of the Occult Teachings!

SUMMUM: Yet the Summum Principles are the only master key which will open all doors to the knowledge of Creation!

Kybalion: From corpuscle and electron, atom and molecule, to worlds and universes, everything is in vibratory motion.

SUMMUM: From quark, squark, lepton, slepton, electron, atom, and molecule, to planets and universes, everything is in vibratory motion.

And on. And on. The seven Aphorisms of SUMMUM are almost carbon copies of the seven Principles of Truth set forth in The Kybalion, with a few tweaks, such as “The All” of The Three Initiates becoming Amen Ra’s “Summum.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Curious Case of Claude "Corky" Ra II

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 ( 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.”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Curious Case of Claude "Corky" Ra

What are we to make of the life and teachings of Claude “Corky” Rex Nowell/King/Nowell, aka Summum Bonum Amen Ra—Corky Ra, for short?
The public details of Mr. Ra’s life are copious. From a miscellany of sources—the substantial press he received, a few television interviews, and a pair of his own testimonies on the website he inspired—it’s possible to cobble together the main facts of his life and achievements.
Born in Salt Lake City on November 2, 1944, he was christened Claude Rex Nowell. After his parents divorced in 1948, his mother remarried, took her son with her to Southern California, and had his name legally changed to Claude Rex King. Along the way he picked up the nickname “Corky.” While still in California, he graduated from Orange Coast College, a large community college now advertised as having 25,000 members, with a degree in construction technology.
Corky moved back to Salt Lake City in 1964 at the behest of his birth father, who gave his son a job in his construction business and insisted that Corky attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; though his father himself wasn’t active in the church, Mr. Nowell thought his son would benefit financially from a tie to the dominant regional power. About this time Corky changed his name (legally) back to Claude Rex Nowell. Maintaining that name for the nonce, he became a Mormon missionary and an elder in the Church, rising to the position of assistant to the mission president, “which,” he once informed an audience, “is about the highest rank you can get to as a missionary.” After a two-year stint on the Central States mission field, he went on to attend Brigham Young University and then the University of Utah, from which he graduated, or did not graduate, with majors in business and, perhaps, philosophy (the sources on these two points are at variance).
In 1970, Corky and one Annette Hall were wed in an LDS temple. They moved into a home that his father had built for him in an affluent neighborhood of the Salt Lake Valley at the base of the grand Mount Olympus. Not long afterwards, he’d lost his interest in the Church, the couple had had two kids, he began to meditate—at the time he thought of it as “relaxation”—in the basement den, and he and Annette started to see things “from two totally unrelated perspectives.” In 1974, the two were divorced and he was doing his meditations in an apartment.
A year later, he says, “I was just having a regular old life like everybody else has. I would go to the clubs in town, and dance, and have a few drinks, and party and get involved with different people,” one of whom was a woman named Chris Miller, whose religious pilgrimage has not been preserved for the ages.
On October 28, 1975, while sitting on a couch in Ms. Miller’s apartment, Corky was purportedly visited by extraterrestrial beings he came to call “Summa Individuals.” This visit led to his founding of the religion Summum, which he registered with the IRS as a non-profit organization. On orders from the extraterrestrials, he claimed, he began to construct a pyramid cum temple in Salt Lake City. Two years later, in 1977, Summum initiated a student organization at his alma mater, making it possible for Corky to teach classes for night students; he later claimed that after two years of these classes, almost 20,000 had become members of Summum. Using donations and volunteer labor, his pyramid was completed in 1979; it was to serve as a sanctuary cum classroom, a winery, and a repository for the mummies of Summum devotees and their pets. In 1980 he changed his name (again legally) to Summum Bonum Amen Ra, though he was commonly and informally known as Corky Ra.
In 1988, once more claiming orders from the extraterrestrials, Corky published a book on the philosophy these visitors from elsewhere had taught him. He called it SUMMUM: Sealed Except for the Open Mind. A year later he married a woman named Grace (neither family name nor religious pedigree is given), whom he had met in a parking lot after one of his lectures. This wedding took place in another temple—this one housed in the pyramid; it was officiated by his disciple Summum Bonum Neffer Menu—Su Menu, aka Sue Parsons—who later succeeded him as president of the organization.
Six years on, he published an illustrated booklet, Sexual Ecstasy from Ancient Wisdom, with the subtitle The Joys of Permanent Sexual Ecstasy.
In 1997, Summum reported an American membership of 150,000.
But what placed Corky Ra in the public eye was the litigation. In late 2008 and early 2009, the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum was heard and decided by the U. S. Supreme Court. This case resulted from Corky’s wish to place a monument listing Summum’s basic teachings, called the Seven Aphorisms, alongside monuments of the Ten Commandment in the city park of a small town near Provo, Utah. On February 25, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled against this New Age religion. The vote was 9-0.
Summum Bonum Amen “Corky” Ra was unavailable for comment on this setback. He was suffering a setback of his own, in his beloved Temple, where he was undergoing the last stages of mummification. He had died on January 29, 2008 of what Su Menu described as complications from Vietnam-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a bad back.