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.

Tuesday, December 31, 1974

Robert Burton on the Fellowship's fifth birthday

Robert Earl Burton (R. E. Burton) founder of Fellowship of Friends cult
December 1974. Robert Earl Burton is seen walking to the "Lincoln Lodge," with the old barn in the background.
The Fellowship property was then known as "The Farm," or "The Ranch." Photo by Drew Kampion.
(Click on this link for a more recent photo of Burton walking the same path, now called Sacred Way.) 

Robert Earl Burton (R. E. Burton), founder of Fellowship of Friends cult
Early on, Burton eschewed being photographed. Undercover photo by Drew Kampion.

Robert Earl Burton (R.E. Burton), founder of Fellowship of Friends
At midnight, Burton and Fellowship members celebrated the school's fifth anniversary.
Behind his left shoulder stands Kimo Beech, one of many tragic figures in The Fellowship of Friends.
(See "Kimo's Story")

From a member's journal:
Later, we all gathered in the “living room” [above] around a cake bearing little figures of Hansel and Gretel and the number 5 (signifying the fifth anniversary of the Fellowship, but also Robert’s position as a “man number 5”)

There were readings, including John Milton’s “On His Blindness” and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Sonnet [below].

Robert expressed the wish “may we receive what we so desperately desire.”

Noting the cake with the “5”, he said there will be “infinite joy when the candles read 6” (when he becomes a “man number 6”, that is, fully “conscious.”)

All the while, Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” softly filled the room.

"Veronicapoe" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2007:
Group myth 1: The Fellowship was something that started out good and true and right and wholesome and somehow along the way became corrupt or faltered or something.

Response to Group myth 1: The Fellowship was thoroughly, fatally corrupt from the very beginning.

(Which is not to say that all the people, or even most of them, were or are corrupt. The key thing is deception. The more innocent, naive and idealistic the person, the more manipulable he or she is, generally speaking. And deception works even better when people at all experience levels are led to disable their critical thinking faculties by “separating from the ‘I’s.”)

Foundation for response to Group Myth 1: Accounts of Bonita G. [Bonita Guido/Hightower] Discussions with Harold W. [Harold Wirk] and the late Stella W. [Stella Wirk] Discussions with the late Don B. [Don Birrell] Discussions with Jordan F-S whose whole family was in FOF in 1971. Discussion with respected student who left in 1971. Attendance sheet from 1971 showing the degree to which peoples’ attendance at events was monitored. Handwritten note in R.’s [Robert Burton's] handwriting from period of silence stating “It is good when weak students leave as they are weight. It used to bother me but now it’s like a useless object being gone.”

According to people who were there, R. intentionally broke up almost all marriages and relationships of people who joined during the first two years. Someone knows the quantity of relationship splits; I don’t. The number I heard was in the 20s or 30s, a huge number in a small group.

In 1971, R. screwed Student #1 (female), who had separated from her husband after she had an affair with another FOF member. The day after, R. told her she hadn’t valued the experience of sex with a conscious being enough, and made a public announcement, reported in the Via Del Sol Journal, that he had been celibate since the beginning of the school. Her response was “why would he lie? It just didn’t make sense.”

After the end of 1970, R. began to require people to give him large amounts of money in order to continue to remain in the group. R. had been living at home with his mother and decided that people should give him money so he could get wheels, a VW bus. From dismissed elementary school teacher (March 17, 1967) to living with Mom at age 32 and giving tennis lessons at the Claremont, to conning Student #1, a woman older than he was who was obviously fascinated with him and was a married with kids in school. He soon monopolized her time 6 days a week. Go figure that one out. She’s married, she has responsibilities to husband and kids, but he monopolizes her time. The word parasitic comes to mind.

Anonymous 1971 defector, who knew nothing of FOF’s subsequent history, stated, “During the period of silence, R. would blow kisses to people. The ones he blew to me were contemptuous. There was something contemptible and contemptuous about him. I sensed in him a radical lack of integrity. My take on him was ultimately sociopathic. This was the social archeology of 1971 cognitively uncontaminated by anything that came later.

Don B. indicated that when R. used to park at Nut Tree he would take up three spaces so as to keep anybody from scratching his Rolls Royce. Classic narcissistic behavior immune from standards which apply to other people.

The thing I have never quite fathomed is that, if accounts of people without axes to grind are to be believed, R. was a popular and well liked elementary school teacher by both students and parents. How did he go from that to creating, in the FOF, such a hostile environment for children?

[ed. - John Milton's Sonnet 19, also known as "On His Blindness":]
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

[William Shakespeare's 12th Sonnet:]
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver'd o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Sunday, December 1, 1974

1974 Notes

The Lincoln Lodge circa 1973, by Harold Wirk. Source.

From Harold Wirk's timeline and from ex-member's journal:

"Farm week" ("3rd line of work" is emphasized)
Vineyard planning and development begin in 1974
Bonita Guido [first student] and Daniel Davis leave the Fellowship. [ed. - It is reported that Daniel Davis was to be one of the seven "conscious beings" the Fellowship would eventually produce.]
The Bay Area Meeting, the primary weekly gathering of Fellowship of Friends members, is currently held at the Skyline Church (later, the Skyline United Church of Christ) in Oakland.

Minimum membership donation is currently $40. Additional donations have been requested (required) for the purchase of Herman Miller stacking chairs and a Caterpillar D-8 bulldozer for The Farm.
Airstream trailers are being moved to The Farm
A "Farm Donation," currently $400, is due twelve months after joining.
December 10:
At tonight’s Bay Area meeting, Robert said there would probably not be a happier or more thankful group on Earth, than the Fellowship on Christmas.

“Some have come to find a mate, not to awaken,” he said. This was uncomfortable for us to hear.

After intermission, obviously having received some negative feedback, he said “what can one say that is positive about something that keeps one asleep?”
 December 19:
At the Los Angeles Center meeting, we were joined by students from the Farm who were temporarily working at the Callaway Winery in Temecula, learning that trade.
Around this time, the Fellowship has 484 members.