Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Thursday, January 1, 1970

The Mysterious Life of Robert Earl Burton prior to the Fellowship of Friends


[ed. - The image above by photographer Robbi Pengelly is featured in John Capone's article, "Over The Moon" (Sonoma Magazine, Winter 2012). Present-day Repris winery is reported to occupy the former site of Alex Horn's Red Mountain Ranch, where Robert Burton is said to have labored in Horn's vineyard.

Curiously, while reconstructing this Fellowship of Friends timeline, I learned that Google's Blogger only allows posts to be back-dated to January 1, 1970, which is, coincidentally, the official Fellowship of Friends founding date. This must be a sign from Burton's "Higher Forces" (or perhaps Burton signaling that the pre-1970 past is best forgotten.) In this post I will include what little has been collected of Burton's early life. The photos of Burton, and indeed much of the information below come from the Internet Archive. "Veronicapoe" (who uploaded the material to the Internet Archive) included the following comment:
"Three photographs of Robert Burton from the 1960s. The earliest is his yearbook photograph from San Jose State University. The later two are faculty photographs from Springhill Elementary School which date from the mid-1960s."

January 1, 1970
Robert Earl Burton considers this the day he founded The Fellowship of Friends.

Earlier History
Robert Earl Burton, Fellowship of Friends cult leader, in the mid-1960s
Robert Burton's Springhill
Elementary School staff
photograph. 1964 or 1965.
"jomopinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 15, 2013:
I think it’s fair to say Burton was trolling for students, looking for someone who would confirm his own specialness, who would play Echo to his Narcissus, who would reflect back to him the image of himself which so entranced him, that of a person of remarkable achievement and special destiny. He found that in Bonita. At the time he was a fellow who had been dismissed from his teaching job in the third year, had gone through a brutal cult experience with Alex Horn up in Sonoma, and had had a serious auto accident in Modesto in which he had significant head trauma. He managed to find some work giving tennis lessons at the Claremont Hotel [ed. - or Hiller Highlands Country Club?] and to do some subbing in Emeryville, but he was living at home in Walnut Creek with his mom. Taking monthly payments from seekers helped enable him to buy a VW van and become independent. He collected quite a group of people, but then made a very exploitative request for the big bucks, and most of them left. I think if you examine the strange fact that Burton renewed his elementary school teaching credential in 1975 for the period 1975-1980, long AFTER he had announced that he was the “Avatar of the Age” and that the group was going to produce “three angels” who would be “burned on the cross and still survive… literally and worse burned on the cross,” it forces you to come to some conclusions about sincerity. The main conclusion I draw is that Burton believed he might have to go back to teaching elementary school, because the whole scam, the terraced hundreds of acres in Oregon House, the legions of devoted students, etc., might fall apart. And he would have to figure out how to make a living again.

"jomopinata" added in another post:
I also have information of unknown veracity that Burton did business management for a rock group for a period of time in the late 1960s. I do not know whether this was before or after the 1968 Modesto auto accident.

From the Cult Education Institute website:
Founder and leader Robert Burton, 55, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from San Jose State College in 1963. He taught elementary school in Lafayette and for the Emeryville Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying the writings of various philosophers on his own.

He also attended a Quaker church in Berkeley off and on during the mid-1960s, which may have eventually inspired the name for his Fellowship of Friends.

In 1968, Burton became captivated-along with a number of other Bay Area residents-by the works of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

In the first half of this century, the two men developed a complex philosophy called the Fourth Way that revolves around the core idea that people are spiritually "asleep."

Acquiring true consciousness, they argued, requires diligent "self remembering"-a concept often likened to the Buddhist philosophy of concentrating on the present moment.

Another key is to refrain from expressing negative emotions, which waste energy and distract from spiritual pursuits, they said.

In 1970, Burton convinced a small coterie of acquaintances in Contra Costa County that he was a "man No.5"-defined by Ouspensky as a self-conscious being-possessed of higher knowledge and emotions than most people.

1969

[ed. - Robert Burton states was a student of Alex Horn for eighteen months. During this period he labored (and was physically abused) at Horn's Red Mountain Ranch. The articles below describe some of the circumstances under which Burton developed into a self-proclaimed "conscious being."]
From The Kenwood Press, February 15, 2006:
In the 1960s, psychologist Alex Horne [sic] established a retreat named Red Mountain Ranch where members studied the teachings of 19th century mystic, Gurdjieff. By paying $250 a week, the members were allowed the privilege of performing arduous manual labor. With only hand tools, they cleared the hillside to plant grapevines and by 1969 prepared 25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 1972, the ranch was sold and Glen Ellen Vineyard emerged.

"ALAN" wrote on alt.consciousness.4th-way, March 17, 2000:
Hello Alert,

I checked out the site [Cult Education Institute] you provided in your March 8th post.

Definately [sic] a false group.

I first met Robert Burton at Red Mountain Ranch in Sonoma County, 48 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California in 1969.

He was a 'tennis bum' at the time and when he saw how much money Alexander Francis Horn was racking [sic] in from gulliable [sic] people who knew their lives were crap, he became a 'work bum'.

And he was very successful until some of his male students started questioning getting anal sex as spiritual enlightenment. There were many stories in major newspapers about him molesting the young boys of his students.

Alex Horn used to have him beaten up regularly as Alex was very homophobic. Of course most of what Alex called his students got beaten up regularly.

There is another "work" website claiming that Lord Pentland and John Bennett were Alex Horn's teachers, allowing Burton People to claim a legitimate connection to the 'fourth-way' for Burton. It is true that in the late 50's Alex did attend an open meeting with Lord Pentland, and he actually shook John Bennett's hand in England as he was about to marry and take to America one of Bennett's students of a few months, Anne [Burrage].

Rodney Collin wrote in one of his many books that the way our descendants will know of 'work activity' in our time, is by all the fake groups, which is just about all anyone ever comes in contact with.

You are only 'in the work' if you are working.

ALAN

[ed. - For an in-depth account of life in Alex Horn's cult, see: A Robert Burton Report From Kabul. Another fine account comes from Thomas Farber in his book, Tales for the Son of My Unborn Child, Berkeley, 1966-1969, of which a 30-page excerpt may be found on A Cult Survivor's Handbook. The following is also from A Cult Survivor's Handbook. The story below makes me wonder if Burton ever was in the oft-cited Volkswagen accident (see below on this page.) Perhaps he was just crowned in one of Horn's slugfests?]
"Theater of All Possibilities" deserves a second look

The San Francisco Progress
January 10, 1979

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on The Theater of All Possibilities. Jack Brooks will also be discussing the theater on the Jim Eason show, Friday between 3 and 4 p.m. on KGO Radio.

By Jack Brooks
For The Progress
“Speaking in general, what is necessary to awaken a sleeping man? A good shock is necessary . . . one shock is not enough. A long period of continual shocks is needed. Consequently, there must be someone to administer these shocks. The work must be organized and it must have a leader. The first and most important feature of groups is the fact that groups are not constituted according to the wish and choice of their members.”

Georges Gurdjieff, as recounted by P.D. Ouspensky “In Search of the Miraculous”
In an attempt to find some conclusion to the bizarre events that surround the operation known as The Theatre of All Possibilities in San Francisco, I have tried to find rational explanations in the stories of former members, in the texts of plays by Alex Horn, and in the writings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

The quote at the top of this article comes as close to a key to the events that have marked Alex Horn’s activities since he came to Northern California nearly a decade ago - as may be possible.

Let me hasten to say that other Bay Area Gurdjieff/Ouspensky groups are in no way connected with or sympathetic to the warped interpretation of that very popular philosophy, as practiced at The Theater of All Possibilities. The bastardization employed by Alex and Sharon Gans-Horn is summed up by the former wife of one of the present leaders, a woman who no longer lives in the Bay Area and is still trying to recover from that “nightmarish” period of her life.

“Horn uses a mixture of Gurdjieff/Ouspensky, Sufism, Judaism, Dante, Orwell, Captain Marvel, and anything else that suits his purposes of gaining mental and physical control over the students.” The woman asked that her name not be used because she still lives in fear of retaliation. She did stress, however, that “If it ever got into court, I’d be there to testify.”

Fear of retaliation is something inherent in controversial operations. Many people called me or wrote and asked that they receive the promised anonymity. Others didn’t ask for that shield because they felt that the shuttered theater would be kept closed.

According to a former actor in The Everyman Theatre (that was the name of the operation when it was in the Mission District), Mark MacIntyre, and others close to the Horns, the directors have left San Francisco and may not be back. Repeated calls to their home on Jackson Street get no answers, although the phone has not been disconnected. “It doesn’t matter,” says ex-member Kathleen Mandis, whose married name was Salmon when she was in the group. “This is a pattern. As soon as there is any pressure, the Horns split and the group goes underground. They’re meeting somewhere.”

Contradictions are routine in the stories about actor – writer – director – guru Alex Horn. Longtime friend Bob Pritikin is of the opinion that “Alex is the gentlest man I’ve ever known.” Pritikin is not a member of the group.

Gerald Greer, former head of Horn’s Red Mountain Ranch in Sonoma County disagrees.

“The things I saw Alex Horn do to people are too incredible and unbelievable . . . how do you make people believe that such things can be true?” he said.

SEX AND COMBAT

Greer continues: “Horn’s credo at the ranch was, “We’re here to f--- and fight and, if someone gets hurt, so be it.” The men in the group were forced to fight each other. The results were bloody. But, on Horn’s instructions, no medical treatment was allowed, even for the most serious injuries. I saw one guy with his forehead hanging in a flap of skin. All he got was a band aid.

That’s the fighting part of it. Other sources have commented that his philosophy of physical beating continued at The Theatre of All Possibilities.

The sexual excesses took many forms. Again, in the words of ranch director Greer: “Horn slept with every woman in the group, resulting in rampant venereal disease, which Horn then transmitted to his wife, Anne.

The event that ended Greer’s association with Horn is, perhaps, the most ludicrous thing that this investigation has uncovered. I have withheld the names for obvious reasons.

“Alex had to prove to the group that his word was law. He had to illustrate that growth, by his concepts, meant a total destruction of ‘self’. To that end, he made a member of the group commit incest with his own daughter. It utterly destroyed them and their family. I couldn’t take anymore and left.”

The victims of that degradation have since left Horn and have put their lives back together, after years of unimaginable torment.

THE ‘TEACHER’

San Francisco first felt the impact of Alex Horn’s brand of theatre when the Everyman Theatre opened in a former gymnasium at 24th and Mission. The first production was a piece that Horn tried, unsuccessfully, to get produced in New York.

What he did get in New York was a new wife, the noted Obie Award winning actress, Sharon Gans.

When “The Fantastic Arising of Padraic Clancy Muldoon” opened at the new Everyman Theatre, it was greeted by unanimous critical condemnation. Irene Oppenheim, then writing for the Bay Guardian, said, “. . . it’s a self-indulgent disaster.” Jeanne Miller of the Examiner was, as is her hallmark, even more exact: “I remember no more punishing experience . . . The shapeless, turgid play is totally lacking in originality, drama or theatricality . . . boring to a point of total exhaustion.” I was not yet a critic, so I escaped the ordeal. Surprisingly, such reviews didn’t close the play. It simply moved the operation into a new area of street ticket and publicity exploitation.

STILL THE QUESTION, ‘WHY’?

This story won’t be closed until that question is answered. A partial answer to the reluctance of current members of The Theatre of All Possibilities to say anything at all may be contained in the observation of former Red Mountain Ranch director Gerald Greer: “The fear factor generated by Alex Horn among his followers is as strong as anything I’ve ever heard of being put out in a group outside of the Hell’s Angels.”
[ed. - From A Cult Survivor's Handbook:]
Closer look at the theater

From third article by Jack Brooks in The S.F. Progress, Jan. 12, 1979:

RED MOUNTAIN RANCH

In the hills above Agua Cyente [ed. - Caliente] in Sonoma County, there is a ranch and vineyard called Red Mountain Ranch. Alex Horn no longer owns it. It was part of the settlement in a messy divorce settlement with his former wife, Anne [Horn, later Haas].

When Greer was overseeing the ranch it contained 457 acres, and 71 of those acres were planted in grapes. "It was a marvelous experience, beams Greer. "I would not trade the good times for anything in the world. And I'm glad I witnessed what happened when things went bad. I wouldn't have believed what people will allow to be done to them unless I'd seen it myself."

Greer remembers a night on Red Mountain: "Alex assembled the group and informed them that he wanted to buy a trans-Pacific racing boat, the biggest available. It was berthed in Hawaii. I watched as people pledged $150,000 in savings and home mortgages. He raised the money in a matter of minutes. After he bought the boat, he found that the hull was defective, so he abandoned the project."

The ranch was a lucrative enterprise, according to Greer. "One year, I believe it was 1970, Horn's income from the year was $397,000."

I assumed that that included the vineyard income. "Oh, no," corrected Greer. "It takes five years to get a grape harvest. That was just from member contributions."

1968
[ed. - In 1968, Burton was involved in a car accident in Modesto, CA. Many times over the years, he would retell the story. Here, forty years later, Burton describes that day. Some have speculated that the physical trauma may have contributed to his psychosis.]
"somebody" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 7, 2008:
[Quoting Burton] Unbelievably, we are in the same state [of consciousness] as Influence C who are in this Pavilion now. However, this state is permanent for them, while we are subject to losing it to imagination. They are asking a lot from us, but they are giving us even more. Last week I stayed in Modesto, California. It was the fortieth anniversary of my automobile accident (1968-2008), which occurred in Modesto. My car was hit sideways, and I woke up with a hundred stitches in my head. [Referring to a photo] I was driving this same model Volkswagen “bug” in the same tan color. Shortly after [Fellowship member] Konstanze Murr completed her task [passed away], we stepped out of a restaurant in Sacramento, and we observed a car, which was the same model and color as Konstanze’s, whith a license plate saying “Sung and Danced”. It did not say, “Sing and Dance”, because Kostanze had sung and danced – she has finished her role.

[ed. - Here, Burton retells the story on September 21, 2011.]


"Ollie" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 21, 2011:
“Soon after I met Influence C on September 5th, forty-four years ago, one of my first observations was that life after death was not a theory. In a sense, this was our school’s first verification. Because before meeting Influence C we had all read literature about life after death, but our faith is a result of our verifications. We have the privilege of verifying that life after death does exist. … This [referring to a photo] is a road sign for Modesto, where I had a car accident. About three months after I met Influence C I had approximately a hundred stitches in my head. It is curious that a small group of students gave me a Miata as a gift last night. This [referring to a photo] is exactly the same as the car that I crashed in – a tan Volkswagen bug. I made a left-hand turn. The driver behind me stopped, but the driver behind him decided to pass, and I was hit broadside and shoved under a parked truck. I heard a horn (like Alex Horn), and an ‘I’ said, ‘Well, it’s not for me.’ That is the most wrong about anything I have ever been in my life! I woke up and the nurse was saying, ‘Doctor, you did a beautiful job with those stitches.’ They rolled me out of the operating room and I just stood up and walked out. I took a taxi and then a Greyhound bus to my little one-room apartment. It was then that I realized how serious Influence C are about helping us. Of course, we have students who have experienced much worse than that. The Miata is a nice little gift, coming almost forty-four years after the Volkswagen. I also soon realized that I was under the guidance of Leonardo. Very early on I wondered who was helping me and they started signaling Leonardo. Leonardo and I are very different, but also very similar from the point of view of presence. Later I will say a few things about why we are so different. If we survive the Last Judgment then many things will become self-evident.”
Mid-60s Volkswagen "Beetle"
1967
The official version of Robert Burton meeting "C Influence":
In 1967 Robert Earl Burton attended a meeting led by Alexander Horn, and immediately knew that he had found what he had been seeking. Mr. Horn conducted a group based on the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky ideas that used theater as a form for work on oneself. Burton devoted himself to studying the Fourth Way and to participating in Mr. Horn’s group. After eighteen months, however, Robert Burton found it necessary to part from his teacher, realizing that Mr. Horn’s teaching methods were no longer serving his aim.

The extraordinary meeting with C Influence, as retold 44 years later, on September 21, 2011, in Robert Burton's own words:
“On September 5, 1967, I met Alex Horn. This date marks the moment when angels from Paradise descended upon us [the royal "us"?], and our quest for divine presence began. We could say that on this day: ‘It has begun.’ Here [referring to a photo] we see a photograph of Alex Horn, showing four fingers on each hand. This [referring to a photo] is the Claremont Hotel and the Berkeley Tennis Club, where I played tennis. I met Influence C hitchhiking because it was just fashionable in the sixties; one would hitchhike from Berkeley to Carmel, and such things. I met Influence C in Berkeley on the crossing of Ashby and Domingo Avenues, like Placido Domingo, the singer. He was born in Spain and raised in Mexico, so it is an omen of my bringing the sequence – the Song of Solomon – to our school. Incidentally, the sequence is a ‘Song of the Self.’ It is four words. This is where our journey began. A doctor picked me up and gave me a ride. He would later turn out to be payment for Dr. Ethan Harris. So we did very well! The doctor was on his way to a prospective student meeting on Page Street (like William Page) in San Francisco. This [referring to a photo] is the house at 350 Page Street where I had my prospective student meeting. It is eight – three plus five. This [referring to a photo] is the interior. The owner was quite gracious about inviting us in. Here [referring to a photo] I am before the gated entrance. … I am looking up in gratitude to Influence C. I was just like you, one of many, one of seven billion. [ed. - World population was around 3.5 billion at the time.] There was no particular reason on the surface they would give any of us this gift, but we are exactly the ones they wanted. And now we are all present and we can see why they wanted us.”

From the Appeal-Democrat:
In 1967, Robert Earl Burton was a 27-year-old teacher at Springhill Elementary in the Bay Area, coming to work in a coat and tie, carrying a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle and talking about sports.

"He was kind of one of the stars," recalled Carol Blackburn, who taught at Springhill when Burton was there. "Everybody loved him."

After a school break he returned, transformed.

He was dressed like a hippie, complete with headband, recalled Blackburn.

Burton resigned his teacher job early in 1967 and in the book "Self-Remembering," a collection of short statements by him, Burton said that six months later that "Influence C" - 44 angels who include Walt Whitman, Buddha and Abraham Lincoln - revealed themselves to him.

"Life after death instantly became a fact," he wrote.

Robert Burton's Springhill
Elementary School staff
photograph. 1965 or 1966.
Alternate history:
For what it’s worth: Robert Burton was required to resign his job teaching fourth grade at Springhill Elementary School effective March 17, 1967. He later told people he was told he “hugged the kids too much.”
Most teachers whom school districts discharge are permitted to finish out the year unless they did something egregious. It’s pretty disruptive to elementary-school-aged children to fire a teacher in mid-March. Someone must have thought it was pretty important to get rid of the guy immediately.
1963
"He received his bachelor’s degree in education from San Jose State University in 1963, and became a competitive tennis player as well as a schoolteacher."

or

Robert graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Speech Pathology and became a "tennis bum".

1943
The Burton Family moves to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Robert Burton, early 1960s
San Jose State University
1939 
May 12 (or 13)
As Robert Earl Burton told his followers, he was born in Enola, Arkansas. (He enjoyed the symbology of this name, since Enola spelled backwards is "alone," a reference to his solitary, and singular role.) He tells followers his mother is Thelma Shock, another sign of divine intervention. (Burton says the Gods provide "shocks" to help us "awaken.") Burton stated that his mother was married five times. His father reportedly operated a meatpacking house. (No divine symbolism there, apparently.) Four years later, he would move with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area. He has two sisters, Betty (or "Bettie") and Frances ("Fannie"), and a brother, William ("Billie".) On the official Fellowship of Friends roster, Burton's birth date is shown as May 12, 1939.

or

Robert Earl Burton is born in Mineral, Arkansas, (as apparently shown on his birth certificate.)

or

Robert Earl Burton is born in Little Rock, Arkansas, (as reported in his biography.)

Alternate Histories: 
May 11, 1939  Robert was born (plus same location variables as above)

or

May 5, 1939  Robert was born (plus same location variables as above)

or

May 4, 1939  Robert was born (plus same location variables as above)

"Spock" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 24, 2010:
[to bloggers:] Apostate, Another Name, James,

The questions about what happened with Burton in childhood and before the FOF are extremely relevant and would cast a lot of light on Burton and the FOF in general.

Note that a sincere discussion about this topic is off-limits in the FOF. Which is odd.

This is “the most important person” in the Fellowship of Friends, and within the Fellowship of Friends we’ve heard him talk and talk and talk about all sorts of topics. But he talks very little about himself and his time before the FOF. Maybe there’s a lot “we” wouldn’t want to hear.

"unoanimo" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 25, 2007:
It is no secret concerning the difficulties RB experienced as a young boy with his mother and sister (or sisters). He openly spoke on many occasions during teaching dinners (very briefly, i.e., less than ten words) of being sexually abused by them. BTW, this was in reply to a question a Fellowship of Friends student asked him, he did not volunteer the information.

[ed. - In December 2012, ex-member "jomopinata" did some research  and discovered the following:]

"jomopinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 7, 2012:
According to the 1940 census record [1940 Census E.D. 60-120, S.D. 5, Sheet 13B] of Mineral Township, Pulaski County, Arkansas, Bobbie Burton’s parents were Velma E. Burton (32) and Edgar Burton (34). The children listed in the 1940 census are Bettie (10), Billie (8), Fannie B (5) and Bobbie (1/2)[sic - actually, "11/12" = 11 months]. The record lists Edgar’s occupation as stock dealer [farm products or livestock dealer], and indicate that the the family owns a farm. [Edgar is listed as having a 9th-grade education.]
http://archive.org/details/TheEsotericHistoryArchive_542

"jomopinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 8, 2012:
Edgar Burton died in June 1967, less than three months after Robert E. Burton’s forced resignation from Springhill Elementary School on March 17, 1967. Edgar was 61-3/4 years old. His Social Security Number was 430-40-4912.

[ed. - This clears up a few things. Mineral Township and Stanley Road reported on the census no longer exist as such.

Since his birth certificate reportedly listed Mineral as his birthplace, and this census shows 11-month-old “Bobbie” living in Mineral, his claim (above) that he was born in Enola, Arkansas (30 miles to the north) appears a fabrication. The 1930 census also shows his family on Batesville Road in Mineral Township (and neighbors to two other Burton families.)

Many Burtons (his father Edgar R. Burton among them) are buried
nearby, in the small Gibson Cemetery (a mile or so from Mineral.) Included is a 20 year-old Robert Earl Burton (11/30/15 - 12/22/35), who died less than four years before “Bobbie” was born.

Robert's sister was likely Frances "Fannie" B. Burton (2/16/35 - 1/87. SS#430-64-0730.)

1930 Census E.D. 60-69, S.D. 6, Sheet 9, shows Edgar R. (24 years old, born about 1906) and Velma E Burton (23 years old, born about 1907)]

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