Introduction


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.")

But 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.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated 2007) Fellowship of Friends Wikipedia page, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship. Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Friday, December 31, 1971

1971 Notes

 "Gathered Around The Campfire, 1971" from the Internet Archive. Photo by Don Birrell.
Photo taken at MacDonalds' farm in Vacaville?

[ed. - Timelines provided by Harold Wirk, here and here. The "history" below is inconsistent. The Oregon House property's anniversary is considered July 4th, but it appears to have been purchased in the Spring.]



January
New Year's Eve party at Mac's [MacDonalds']
According to Harold, sometime during this period, Berkeley meetings began
1st Ranch Donation requested [Bonita "loaned" Robert $4,000 for the ranch purchase.]
Farm-garden (at Mac's)
Open meetings (1/7)
Borsch party at Anna's (1/10) [is this at Anna G.'s house in Berkeley?]
Last "Circle in Room" at Rick and Alice's [Hannah]
Smoking allowed during breaks only
Ken Jacuzzi left for Mexico (1/20)
"Stop" exercise is instituted (1/25)
February
40 names for group [ed. - was the Fellowship still unnamed at this point?]
Begin search for a ranch
Planting ceremony at Mac's (2/21)
March
March 3: Robert announces plans to purchase a ranch. Donations due March 4th.
Members looked at the "King Ranch". [ed. - Is this the 1,300-acre Solano County King Ranch, or possibly the former name for the Dixon Hill property? There is also a King Ranch Road in Bangor, just west of Oregon House.]
Robert will not personally work with new students (3/10)
April
April 20: The California Franchise Tax Board determines The Fellowship of Friends to be a tax-exempt religious organization
April 21: The Fellowship of Friends is incorporated in the State of California
May
May 28 - 31: Sea Ranch Coastway's Ranch
June
Alden and Bonita moved to Ranch
June 23: The United States Internal Revenue Service determines The Fellowship of Friends to be a tax-exempt religious organization
June 26: Anna 3rd [to move there?]
July
1st Ranch Weekend (7/4): "The Farm Octave" begins
[Official Fellowship of Friends history:] On July 4, 1971, (Robert Burton's) students purchased 1,200 acres of mostly uncleared land in the Sierra foothills [bordering the community of Oregon House and sharing Dixon Hill with the Richards Ranch]. For the next five years, Robert Burton focused his efforts on establishing a network of satellite groups or “centers” in California, and on developing the property—later called Renaissance—to serve as a central retreat for Fellowship members and as the focus for their external efforts. [ed. - According to the report by Eugene Katz, CPA, the Fellowship's land holdings as of December 31, 1971 were 917 acres, the cost, about $167 per acre.]
Coin octave [coin collecting?]
August
See Fellowship of Friends Master List as of August 1971.
September
September 4: Robert begins a 16-month period of silence.
Started paper [assumed to be "Via del Sol," the Fellowship journal and newsletter]
Around this time, members are advised to "cut life work by 20%"
October
Sea Ranch (10/1/-10/3)
Vegetarian diet on Ranch (10/18)
Robert speaks on the subject of suicide (10/26)
November
According to Harold, around this time, being "out of patterns" is emphasized, he also refers to "laughing man" [unknown reference], "organic" lifestyle is emphasized, no leather or restrictive clothing, rolfing and massages are common, members are not to eat pork. There is a slow-down in recruiting.
Fast one day [member exercise?]
Mexican dinner (11/18)
Thanksgiving dinner at Farm
December
Big Sur, Carmel meetings (open) started
12/2: Robert leaves ranch and tries to sell it. 14 adults, 8 kids left
12/7: Announced new group formed in Big Sur
Robert teaches 4 meetings weekly
New Year's party at Mac's [MacDonalds'?] ranch (12/31)

Saturday, September 4, 1971

Silence and "feminine dominance"

[ed. - On September 4, 1971, Robert Burton entered a 16-month period of silence, concluding in December 1972. During this time, he visited his mother in the hospital and refused to speak. Later, he was fond of citing that occasion as an example of his work against the human weakness he called "feminine dominance." (Always prone to exaggeration, on November 11, 2009, Burton would later recount, "When I was a young teacher, I worked with an exercise of being in silence for two years.")

In April of 1981, Burton even told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle the familiar story.]
“My mother was in a hospital and she was dying. They had to do open-heart surgery and I was in the 15th month of a 16-month period of silence. I was denying myself speech. I saw her in the hospital and I did not speak. It was my aim not to speak.” 
 [ed. - His work against feminine dominance did not however prevent him from assigning many members, including myself, to provide various services for his mother, who lived in Sacramento, CA at least into the late 1970s. See also "Notes from the period of silence, 1971-1972" at the Internet Archive.]

Tuesday, August 31, 1971

Fellowship of Friends Master List, August 1971

From the Internet Archive

"Melanie" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends WikiSpace [site no longer accessible], March 16, 2013:
Date:  Sat, Mar 16 2013, 1:34 pm, PST
Name:  Melanie
Number:  26


How strange to see my name on the 1971 ledger sheet. I was 18 at the time, had been in the Teaching for 2 years and left in 1972 to grow up. If my recollection serves me right, 1971 was the year that we spent the summer at the ranch, one bathroom and a bad septic system. I remember having various projects, one of which was raising and killing chickens. Each student had to kill a chicken because it was important to be in touch with our appreciation with another life and the taking of it. It was an important lesson. When I left the teaching, my mother Rosemary, my father Donald, and my sister Charlotte had nothing to do with me for a few months but that was as long as it lasted. Maybe it was because I was leaving to find me not to get away from them. In any case, my mother was in until she passed away in 2003. My father left about a year before Miles because of the abuse and because people were instructed not to have sex. What I remember of that is that no-one was to have any sex unless they were married. How odd. I never really felt compelled to follow alot of the rules that Robert laid down...I thought it was a test to see if you would think for yourself or do what he said. The thread of being excomunicated was not enough to doom me to a loss of salvation. I don't see alot of former members but I do live a great life in Wisconsin. I miss my parents but I know they did a good job overcoming many challenges in this life. I had a sense of humor about the many "important and significant" statements they both made in the weekly meetings and the retreats. Really, what the heck what that all about? There was mostly alot of repressed sexual energy going around. What a hoot. I have not fully looked over all of the postings but I will. Thank you for taking the time to develop this...it is very interesting and certainly a part of my past.

[ed. -
"My father left about a year before Miles because of the abuse and because people were instructed not to have sex."
Actually, Donald Macdonald left the Fellowship in June 1975. Miles Barth (aka Brighton) left the Fellowship in March 1985.]

Sunday, August 1, 1971

Once upon a time...

[ed. - Below is a screen print of the Renaissance Winery website captured by the Internet Archive, October 13, 1999. In the photograph, members are gathered in front of what would become the "Lincoln Lodge," and later, "Apollo d'Oro" restaurant.]