Spotlight on Summum: Journey of one's essence

Transference through mummification

The Salt Lake Tribune/November 12, 2008

Imagine you've just died and are watching what unfolds. That burial comes soon, maybe too soon. You watch as your boxed-in body is lowered into the ground and covered with dirt. Or perhaps you see it consumed by flames.

The experience might be confusing, if not horrifying. "Maybe you haven't let go," Ron Temu suggests. What Summum, the spiritual group with which he's affiliated, offers through its modern mummification process is guided "transference," a way to help people and animals - or really the "essence" of them - move "from this address to the next address."

This belief and practice is central to the small Salt Lake City-based community that's gained the attention of America's highest court. U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments Wednesday in an appeal from Utah County's Pleasant Grove, which wants to block Summum from displaying its own monument beside the Ten Commandments already standing in a municipal park. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in 2007 that the city is required to allow the monument under the First Amendment. If it is erected, the new structure would include Summum's seven guiding principles.

In a bronze-colored pyramid on Salt Lake City's west side, Temu - a 60-year-old licensed funeral director who helps families with arrangements - sits in front of a large Egyptian-like and empty mummiform. To his left is a row of mummified cats: Vincent, Oscar and Smokey. Across the room, there are Butch and Wendy, both Dobermans, Maggie the poodle, Rooster the bull mastiff and a scattering of unidentifiable resin-sealed cocoons that turn out to be birds.

Since 1986, the group has been offering mummification for humans and says it's the only outfit in the world doing what it does. Summum's method, a modernized approach that Temu says leaves a person's DNA perfectly intact, keeps the dead looking just as they did when they died - not all dehydrated and discolored, like the mummies of old.

All people of all backgounds, says Temu, who was raised in Ogden in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are invited to partake of its services. Mummification - and more generally the Summum philosophy - can work hand in hand with any faith tradition, he says.

Summum is less a religion, per se, than a way to look at life, Temu explains. "Summum accepts all philosophies. There are so many beautiful paths on this planet."

Beside Temu, in a magazine rack, are copies of various religious texts, including a copy of the Quran, The Book of Mormon, and the Hebrew Bible. A handful of Buddhas dot the room. Temu points out that in different faith traditions, mummies or mummification get nods. In Genesis 50, both Jacob and Joseph were embalmed, "an ancient word that means to wrap and preserve for eternity with resin inside and out," he says. In John 19, Nicodemus arrived with myrrh and aloes to take care of Jesus' body. In The Pearl of Great Price, one of the Mormon faith's four books of scripture, scrolls found with ancient mummies are believed to reveal teachings.

About 1,500 individuals, from all corners of the globe and various religious backgrounds, already have signed up for these arrangements through their local funeral homes, he says. But only one - in the 22 years of offering this service - has been mummified, and that is Temu's old friend and the Summum founder, Corky Ra, who died at the beginning of this year.

"Sign up for mummification, you live forever," Temu said with a laugh. "I guess it's just the design of the universe that he [Ra] was first."

The process, one Ra spent years perfecting with an embalming specialist, is not quick, easy or cheap. A body must be submerged in a vat of special mummification fluids for at least 77 days. The organs are completely washed and replaced, the skin sutured and slathered with lanolin, the body wrapped with seven layers of gauze. It's then painted with many layers of butyl rubber, covered with a carbon fiber cloth, butyl rubbered again and cocooned in fiberglass, before going into a welded bronze mummiform or casket which is purged of oxygen and then filled solid with resin. That amounts to about 1,000 hours of labor, Temu says. All told, the process takes about six months. The starting price for a human: $65,000.

Temu pulls up on his phone an image of Ra's mummiform, which was commissioned by local artist Stan Watts in 1985 and is still being completed at a cost of about $40,000.

An underground mausoleum is being built on the south side of Summum's property, and that's where a mummified-Temu will eventually rest. But when Ra's mummiform is completed, with the Summum founder inside, it will stand in all its 2,000-pound glory in the group's pyramid.

In ancient Egypt, the pyramid tombs were considered "a place for transference," an environment to help the soul in its journey, Temu explains. Summum offers a modern-day chance for similar soul travel, and the actual mummification process is a mere means to an end, the physical reality to help in the transference.

"We're not a funeral home. We don't want to be a funeral home," Temu says of the nonprofit organization. "We're a religious sanctuary that performs a religious rite for people."

To do what it does, Summum requires - in addition to the legal paperwork available online - a "spiritual will," written by the person who wants to be mummified. This document outlines where an individual hopes its soul will go in the next lifetime. During the minimum of 77 days that a body floats in fluids, Summum officials will read to it - at least once a day - a copy of the person's spiritual will.

It's as if the soul is on a boat traveling down a river, trying to decide where to jump off, Temu explains. The spiritual will serves as a reminder of one's hopes.

"I am looking to be born into a family that's at peace raised in an environment that will allow me to be exposed to all cultures," Temu says, describing his own will. We're "giving people an opportunity to choose a destination, and we will sit beside you and read you your transference as you travel to your next destination."

What is Summum?

A Latin term meaning "the sum total of all creation."

A homegrown Salt Lake City-based spiritual group, founded in 1975 by now-deceased Corky Ra, or Summum Bonum Amon Ra, who claimed to have been visited by advanced beings.

A philosophy - steeped in meditations, the use of sacramental wine and the practice of modern mummification - that believes in "one source," but doesn't give it a name or refer to it as God.

A group guided by seven principles, or aphorisms, believed to have been received by Moses at Mount Sinai. Because the Israelites weren't ready to understand these "principles underlying Creation and all of nature," Moses returned with additional tablets, the more easily understood Ten Commandments.

The principles touch on issues including cause and effect, rhythm, vibration and opposition.

Not a formal church, it doesn't require attendance. Meditations can be learned and practiced on one's own. Teachings can be followed through broadcasts on the Internet.

Hundreds of thousands of people, across the globe, have tapped into the teachings.

Sources: Summum's Web site and the group's president, Sue Menu

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.