Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Thursday, December 31, 1970

A Real Fourth Way School?

Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends cult enneagram
The enneagram
[ed. - Apparently, to be authentic, a Fourth Way School must have a living lineage, that is the teaching must be personally transmitted from Teacher to Student. There has been considerable debate about the legitimacy of Robert Burton's claimed lineage. It should be noted that William Patrick Patterson himself is not an impartial observer. He has a vested interest in claiming the Gurdjieff tradition for himself. See his Gurdjieff Legacy site.]

From: Taking with the Left Hand by William Patrick Patterson, a respected authority on this subject:
Though Burton claimed to be a Fourth Way teacher, he himself never had an authentic Fourth Way teacher. The level of his understanding of the teaching was based on what he could pick up from Fourth Way books and from his one-time teacher, the actor-director Alexander Francis Horn. Horn, himself a faux-Gurdjieffian without any real connection to the Fourth Way, had based his own understanding on books and on that of his first wife Carol, a student of John Bennett's ten month experimental program - an eclectic melding of the Fourth Way with other teachings and practices. Horn first taught in New York and later in San Francisco where he created the Theater of All Possibilities, a theater which purported to double as a Fourth Way school. Horn financially exploited his students, manipulated their lives, often physically brutalizing them - all in the name of the teaching. The thirty-one-year-old Burton, dismissed by Horn for not "staying on task" apparently picked up enough from Horn to start his own teaching.

Alexander Francis Horn: Not much is known about Horn, but, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, his dinner theater "Fourth Way School" operation, known as the Theater of all Possibilities (the name taken from the Herman Hesse novel, Steppenwolf), had an income of $40,000 per month or some $500,000 a year. Of this, $20,000 was from student dues and $20,000 from the sale of theater tickets. Students, required to sell tickets to the weekly productions, were harangued and physically beaten if ticket quotas were not met. At Horn's instigation, all-night drinking marathons culminating in fist fights were common occurrences, all in the name of the teaching. Punishment, in many forms was a feature of Horn's teaching. A local drama critic wrote, after sitting through three hours and leaving at the end of Act II of Horn's three-act play, The Fantastic Arising of Padraic Clancy Muldoon - "In more than ten years of reporting on the local theater scene, I remember no more punishing experience." Burton had long before been dismissed from the group, but this gives a portrait of Horn's psychology and his approach.

Burton never had a genuine Fourth Way teacher. Burton's only teacher was Alex Horn who was never in the Gurdjieff Work. A martial arts expert and actor-director with a dramatic flair, Horn learned of the Fourth Way teaching through his second wife who spent a number of months in J. G. Bennett's International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherbourne, England.  For information on Alex Horn see "Theater Group: Cult or Stage?" by Jack Brooks, San Francisco Progress, December 22, 1978.  Horn is criticized for financially exploiting his students and subjecting them to psychological abuse, even beatings. See also "Real-Life Drama in a S.F. Theater Group," by Michael Taylor and Bernard Weiner, San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1978. The story focuses on allegations of "beatings, child neglect and a student fee structure that yielded high revenues."

Q&A session with Alex Horn, circa 1970, from "A little Survivor's Handbook"
“You seem to be in an especially good mood tonight…”

A: “I’m ALWAYS ‘in essence’ — can’t you see that?”

“What made you decide to become a teacher?”

A: “I was BORN to be a teacher!  It was no accident – or mere coincidence – that [some notorious guru] died the night I was born.  When I heard about this, I knew right then and there that I was born to take his place.  …MEANT to be – DESTINED to be – another great leader and Fisher of Men – Self-observing, Self-remembering, Self-evolving No. 4 Man – Balanced Man – Conscious Man – REAL Man – Teacher of ‘the Work’ and all the great religions, teachers and teachings in the world!”

“Did you ever have a regular job?”
A: “I was a garbage man!”

”What was your relationship like with your mother…?”
A: “My ‘mother’?  She bullied me to death and controlled every move I made – even when I was in college.  She drove my poor father – a kind and gentle rabbi – into an early grave.”

“Have you ever tried hallucinogenic drugs – like L.S.D., hash, peyote, mescaline?”
A: “No.”

“What do you think of the Beatles and their great new album?”
A: “What are the Beatles compared to Bach?”

“What happened to your teeth…? ”
A: “I had to get them pulled out and wear dentures.”

A: “My dentist said I had ‘self-cleaning teeth and didn’t have to brush like other people did’.”

“You only believed that yarn because it made you feel special!”

"Keith" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 16, 2007:
The Fellowship is not now nor was ever a fourth way school. It does not now and never did have any connection to Ouspensky or Gurdjieff. Ouspensky and Gurdjieff are the bait in the Fellowship “Bait and Switch” spiritual program. The Fellowship is Robert Burtonism plain and simple. Always has been. The ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky have been distorted beyond reasonable recognition... Forget about Fellowship ideas about the system and go directly to the source (at least the written sources).

RB was in a pseudo school conducted by Alex Horn who was never in a school himself. His wife was a student of John Bennett, I don’t know for how long. Alex Horn was not ever in any kind of Gurdjieff work. We were led to believe that Horn had come through the Gurdjieff Work, i.e., some connection to the Foundation. He was, I was told, acquainted with Lord Pentland but never participated in group work. This info was given to me by a woman in the Gurdjieff work who had been a movements teacher for 20 years and a group leader for many years after that. She had known Horn through a friend who had dated him briefly in the 50s or 60s. She was also close to Lord Pentland so I trust her opinion on this.

RB was in a pseudo school where the teacher, Alex Horn, made things up as he went along. Using In Search of the Miraculous as his guideline. According to Dave Archer, Horn never read anything by Gurdjieff. RB was in this school for sometime over a year and was kicked out for overt homosexual predatory behavior. This according to Pat Patterson. Alex Horn had an anti-homosexual rule in his school. Again see Dave Archer’s website. [ed. - relevant discussions: David Archer on the Fourth Way lineage and on Alex Horn.]

So RB in under 18 months went from man 1,2 or 3 all the way to man 5. He had a spontaneous awakening delivered by his guardian Angel Leonardo DaVinci. Give me a break. So we have a guy who never really studied with anyone who understood the ideas of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, started his own school using ideas that he did not really understand and any time he came across a question he couldn’t deal with either made something up or deferred to “higher forces”. A con is a con is a con. A cult is a cult is a cult. And each and every one of us fell for it in some way or other.

If we hadn’t fallen for this con we would have fallen for some other con. Hopefully what we all get out of our experience, at least those who were not irreparably damaged, is some new level of critical discernment, the ability to be more discriminating in regards to our spiritual pursuits.

"Kid Shelleen" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 4, 2007:
Laura [blogger],

Taking with the Left Hand is by William Patrick Patterson, who was a student of John Pentland’s and supposedly was annointed to lead the Gurdjieff Foundation when Pentland died. The observations he makes about the fof in his book are mild compared to the real deal. His point of view is coming from the “Burton has no legitimate connection to this work and is misleading his students” angle.

Here’s a story:

A couple of years ago, I was in a local book store and saw a poster for one of Patterson’s talks near my home. Just out of curiosity, I went. He talked the fourth way mumbo-jumbo for awhile, had us do some “sensing” exercises, and opened the floor for questions. For fun, I asked a question about self remembering and creating memory. He asked me about my understanding of self remembering and in my answer I used the phrase divided attention. He told me this was a wrong understanding of the idea and then, seemingly out of nowhere, launched into a diatribe about false teachings and corruption of the ideas. On and on it went. At the end, he turns his best Gurdjy steely gaze on me and says, “And this is the story of Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends, is it not,” in an incredibly self-satisfied tone. I almost laughed out loud. Judging from his manner, I believe that he thought that I thought, “Wow, how did this guy read my mind?” I came away from the experience thinking, “Same s#@t, different bag.”

Oh, and his students were a hoot, too. They seemed about as uptight as any group of folks I’ve run into. The women who introduced him (one of the inner circle, probably), spoke of him as if he were the second coming. After the event. I asked the two people manning the concession stand how many times a week the group met and how many students were in the local area. They stopped, stared at the ground for a moment, looked at each other with a look I’m sure we are all familiar with, and told me they couldn’t answer my question. So it goes.

[ed. - The following letter was sent to The Gurdjieff Club by an unknown author.]
A letter about Robert Burton

Dear Mr. Rovner,

I found your website, Gurdjieff Club, quite interesting.

I noted with interest your comments about the People of Gurdjieff's Influence where you talk about Robert Earl Burton who founded the fellowship of friends. You also say that Burton "spent eighteen months in a Gurdjieff group of the Fourth Way led by the spiritual teacher Alexander Francis Horn."

I feel like you are doing a great disservice to anyone who reads your website without stating the whole truth of these matters.
Robert Earl Burton's Fellowship of Friends was and is a cult that has harmed many people.

Please look at the following sources:

Personally, I was a victim of Alexander Francis Horn who was NOT a spiritual teacher and who had no connection to Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

Alex Horn was a psychopath, a narcissist, a manipulator, a rapist and a black magician. Yes, he taught Burton and in that way further perpetrated his evil.

Please look at the following sources about Alex Horn and his groups:
[ed. - Sites below without active links have been removed from the web.]

Please, if you are interested in the truth, tell the whole story about these people.

Not all of Gurdjieff's followers were unscrupulous but some of them were and people should know about this.

Thank you for considering the above.

Best wishes

[No signature/name]

[ed. - Finally, concerning the system of beliefs upon which Burton's "school" was founded, there are reports that, just before his death, Ouspensky urged his followers to abandon the system. "Innernaut" appears to have found evidence to support these reports.]

"innernaut" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 28, 2008:
132 Another Name [responding to]

Thanks for the Alan Clements video. It reminds me of something that happened very early in my FOF time, about 1981.
I was in the Boston center, and at one point I was dispatched, along with two other students, to visit the Yale library in New Haven, Connecticut. Our assignment was to rifle through the “Ouspensky papers,” which had been donated to the university after O’s death.

We drove down there, and signed in. We were ushered to a room, where we could select the boxes we were interested in viewing. There were about 50 of them, mostly meeting transcripts covering 25 years or so, right up to his death. We chose a cross-section, with various dates, and got a few boxes brought to us. We were not allowed to make copies. We had to write down whatever we were interested in, using only a pencil and paper the library issued to us.

The boxes were crammed full of typewritten pages. Mostly just stuff that could have come from “The Fourth Way” — not terribly interesting. But there was one box — the last box, chronologically — that I was really interested in. I had read about O’s last, bizarre meetings, and I was wondering if they were transcribed. They were, so I spent almost my whole allotted time copying down the questions and O’s strange answers.

The gist of what he said is known: he told his students to “abandon the system,” saying that it was basically BS. Even back then, I felt strangely liberated; not that I had the courage to chuck it all aside then, but that one day I would be free of it. I noticed this feeling then, but pushed it aside, because what did that say about the System I had devoted my life too, that I couldn’t wait to be free of it?

After copying down many pages of this very interesting stuff, one of the students did a guilt trip on me, saying we shouldn’t be spending so much time on “unhelpful” material. Hmmm… so party-line Ouspensky is “good,” and Ouspensky when he finally sounds like he’s a human being and is telling the truth is “bad.”

This experience was probably the beginning of the end for me, in terms of the System, though it would take many years before I had the courage to throw it all out — baby, bathwater, everything.

One more thing, which Alan Clements mentioned — getting rid of the notion of enlightenment means being able to live without the certainty that a dogmatic spiritual framework provides. If it helps you live sanely, then more power to you.

"innernaut" continued:
One more thing. When I asked the idolized “older students” what they thought Ouspensky meant when he said, “abandon the system,” they had many creative things to say. But in the end, what they essentially said was, “Don’t abandon the system.” That’s right, when O says abandon the system, what he really means is don’t abandon the system.
People sure act funny when their belief system is being threatened.

1970 Notes

[ed. - At a New Year's Eve party on December 31, 1969, Robert Earl Burton meets his first "student," Bonita Guido. On January 1, 1970, he begins instruction for his new follower, thus launching The Fellowship of Friends.]

From Harold Wirk's timeline and here:
According to Harold's notes, Bonita and David Guido were Burton's first students. There were three meetings a week, at Orinda or Walnut Creek, and "Robert works with each student privately." Having relationships of children is discouraged. The period is noted for "intense 1st and 2nd line work" and the "word exercises" [avoiding the use of designated words] begin. 
First open meeting (1/20)
Tahoe trip. 22 go.
Harold, Stella [Meg] join
Meetings at Bern & Liz Berger's, Guidos', Meg's
Sea Ranch
Meg hospitalized (8/21 - 8/26)
Dinner at Guidos'
Meetings at Hannahs' and Guidos'
Tahoe trip (8/28 to 9/3)
Notebooks started
Dinner at Kenneth J.'s (9/11)
Robert gone. Students conduct first meeting (9/21)
Swim party at Ken J.'s (9/28)
Meetings at Ken's, Bonita's, Bernard's, Bill's
Big Sur trip (10/21- 10/22)
Meetings at Bill's, Meg's, Bernard's, Bonita's, Richard's
Mendocino trip (11/15 or 11/16)
"Small groups" begin
Group open meetings (11/20 - 11/22)
Christmas party at Hannahs'