ST. GEORGE — Mummies are often considered a thing of the past, best left to museums and history books. But in a small pyramid in Utah, the art of mummification is still practiced today.
Summum, a religious organization located in Salt Lake City, is the only place in the world where people – and their pets – can undergo modern mummification
“We’re the only ones that do permanent body preservation anywhere on the planet,” Ron Temu, who oversees the mummification process, said.
Anyone can choose to be mummified. Since Summum opened their doors in 1975, over 1,000 people have made arrangements to have their body mummified after death.
The cost to become mummified is $67,000, while the cost of a sarcophagus or burial casket runs from $20,000 to over $100,000, depending on how elaborate the person wants it to be.
Most of the mummifications performed, however, are on pets.
Su Menu, the current president of Summum, said that many of their clients who choose to mummify a pet do so because they don’t like the burial options typically offered for animals and want to remain close to their pet.
Menu knows this not only from what she has heard but also from making the decision with her own pets.
“I feel like it was a fitting monument for them, for the lives that they lived with me,” Menu said. “I felt like they deserved to have a better burial. It’s like a beautiful piece of art and a reminder of who they were and what they meant to you.”
The cost to mummify a pet depends on the animal’s size. It typically ranges from around $9,000 for smaller pets like cats and small dogs and up to $30,000 for a larger dog breed.
This is not your father’s mummy
Modern mummification is performed much differently than how it was done by the ancient Egyptians, who removed all moisture from the body by taking out the internal organs and packing the body with salt. They would then remove the salt before wrapping it with linen, with the entire process taking 70 days to complete according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The modern mummification process preserves a body by depriving it of oxygen.
To do this, they flush the blood out of the body and replace it with a specialized embalming fluid similar to the genetic engineering chemicals used to preserve DNA.
Then they remove the internal organs and clean them, returning only the heart at this point, much like the Egyptians did. However, unlike the Egyptians, they next immerse the body into a vat of the embalming fluid and leave it for two to three months.
Once the body is done soaking, they place the other organs back into the body, bathe it and coat the entire body with a lanolin wax solution to further preserve it. Then they wrap the body in seven layers of cotton gauze and paint over it with polyurethane, followed by an additional layer of resin and a coat of fiberglass.
“We’re putting a number of different layers of protection around the body so that we make sure nothing gets in, and nothing gets out,” Bernie Aua, vice president of Summum, said.
The body is placed inside a handmade bronze mummiform, which is then welded shut.
The mummy is then returned to the family of the deceased. Summum recommends that the mummiform be placed in a mausoleum or other indoor space. If family members choose to bury the mummiform, it is suggested to bury it at least twice as deep as usual to protect it from frost.
Both Temu and Aua are licensed funeral directors and embalmers. There is no specific license needed to mummify, Temu said, since it is considered a religious practice.
Part of the process of mummification requires those performing it to read a “spiritual will” to the body throughout the process, believing that it will help guide the spirit on its journey to the afterlife.
“For the Egyptians, and of course for us too, when a person dies it’s just the physical body that actually ceases to function,” Temu said. “The spirit is still there looking for a place to go. … During that time, it allows for the soul to make a very peaceful, smooth transition from this existence to their next destination.”
A spiritual will is something that the person being mummified wrote in life, outlining the existence they want to move on to in the afterlife. Because Summum is an all-denominational organization, they believe that all religions are correct and that each individual is able to choose what happens to them after death.
From the founder’s beginning to his earthly end
Summum was formed in 1975 after the founder, Claude “Corky” Nowell – who later changed his name to Summum Bonum Amen Ra – said he had an encounter with “advanced beings” who gave him seven “principles of creation” on which they base their religious philosophy, according to their website.
Menu told St. George News she was first introduced to Summum at a lecture Ra gave at the University of Utah in 1976.
“It didn’t ring true to me at first, I have to admit, but subsequently after listening to Corky talk, and some of the principals that he developed, I felt like this is where I needed to be,” she said.
After Ra’s death in 2008, he became the first person to undergo modern mummification. His bronze mummiform, on which an image of his face is carved, currently resides in the Summum Pyramid.
In addition to mummification, Summum members participate in a variety of other “ancient wisdom” practices. The group produces “nectar of the gods,” a sacramental wine based on a pre-Egyptian formula. Because of this practice, the organization became the first federally bonded winery in the state of Utah in 1980.
Summum has created nine different nectars, each of which is intended to be consumed while observing a different form of meditation.
The organization offers various courses on meditation and has published two books: “SUMMUM: Sealed Except to the Open Mind,” which discusses the organization’s philosophy, and “Sexual Ecstasy from Ancient Wisdom,” which teaches both sexual meditation and techniques, similar “The Kama Sutra.”
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