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.

Wednesday, December 31, 1975

December 1975 Notes

December 2:
Open meetings (for prospective students) begin in the Bay Area
December 23:
Reminiscences of earlier Fellowship of Friends Christmases at The Farm. The holidays featured Robert's favorite Burt Bacharach music, and George Harrison's “My Sweet Lord.” Cows were decorated with tinsel garland and "Hostess" donuts were served with hot chocolate and "Constant Comment" tea.
December 24:
In the “Meissen Room” tonight, a potted dwarf sequoia stood on a table in the corner, draped in red velvet, strung with white lights and adorned with glass ornaments.
Robert shared our latest “gift” – a fine porcelain plate produced by KPM, with a beautiful painting of a young Russian princess on its face. We were all captivated by the exquisite workmanship and touching image.
December 25:
Keeping a holiday “tradition,” hot chocolate was served at the Lincoln Lodge during the afternoon. (Just like three years ago, only this time in Meissen teacups.)
December 30:
At the Bay Area Meeting, it was announced which members would be leaving for our new centers. Robert discussed the Fellowship's accomplishments in 1975. He also said his imminent crystallization would mean the end of friction for him, as it is no longer necessary.
Many members were leaving directly after the meeting for new centers in various parts of the U.S.
December 31:
“Stella’s Coffee Shop” (probably upstairs in the “American Room”. These impromptu gatherings of night-owls were often hilarious, and somewhat irreverent. It was a tradition carried on wherever Stella and Harold went.)

Wednesday, December 24, 1975

"Educating Essence"


 [ed. - This image and others from the Fellowship's lavish porcelain collection would appear in the August 1976 literary publication "Kairos II."]

Note attached from Internet Archive poster:
"This idealized image, and its accompanying caption 'noble child,' have a contradictory import: The Fellowship portrays an idealized 'noble' child while simultaneously maintaining an environment hostile to children."

Remembrance of a student:
I dined in the “Meissen Room” with Robert tonight. A potted dwarf sequoia stood on a table in the corner, draped in red velvet, the tree strung with white lights and adorned with glass ornaments.

Robert shared our latest “gift” – a fine porcelain plate produced by KPM, with a beautiful painting of a young Russian princess on its face. We were all captivated by the exquisite workmanship and touching image.

"if memory serves" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 13, 2007:
288/Veronicapoe [post number and blogger who posted the image on the Internet Archive]:
Wow, that image was deeply familiar to me. It’s been 22 years, but wasn’t that a painting on porcelain that hung in the Meissen room? I could be wrong about that, but seeing the image had a strong emotional effect on me. I’ll bet memory works differently in different people, but for some reason, this one took me back to the heightened atmosphere of that dining venue, with all its attendant anxieties, egos, desires, states, and expectations. Thanks for gathering and posting these.

Sunday, November 30, 1975

November 1975 Notes

(It is common to see chess played at the Lincoln Lodge these days.)

November 6:
Seven new Meissen porcelain figurines have been acquired and were displayed (Robert is collecting the rare pieces.)
November 21:
The Lao Tzu Library is set with four round tables, six seats to a table
November 22:
Six beautifully-tiled and fixtured bathrooms are finally put into use at the Lincoln Lodge extension, thus relieving the pressure on the long-inadequate two bathrooms at the “Franklin Complex” (an old single-wide trailer at times housing a small store, occasional hair salon and an architects’ office.) [The wait for a shower at the old facility could be hours long.]

Friday, October 31, 1975

October 1975 Notes

October 2:
The “poultry octave” is abruptly ended by slaughtering the entire lot of chickens during a night-long effort. David G., rung necks, and wielded the hatchet. Others boiled, plucked, then wrapped the carcasses for the freezer.
October 3:
Electric lighting is introduced to "The Court of the Caravans” [ed. - Airstream trailer park on the property]
October 5:
A new vineyard road was being bulldozed into the hillside above the Lincoln Lodge.
October 7:
 A new exercise is introduced: no placing of hands in one’s pockets.
October 11:
The “Lao Tzu Library” was inaugurated today.
October 12:
Tonight, John G. offered a group waltz lesson at the Lincoln Lodge.
(On Saturdays, a delicious flank stank is now served, something many Renaissance residents look forward to.)
October 20:
At Mt. Carmel, breakfast was served “at table” for the first time. (Previously, it was informal, sitting wherever we could, plates in our laps.) [ed. - Another step toward refining the dining experience.]
October 26:
“Burger Barn” opens in Oregon House. (“We have arrived!”)
October 28: 
A helicopter sows mustard seeds on the vineyard slopes for winter ground cover and erosion control. [ed. - The Fellowship drew the ire of neighbors for silting up their ponds, a result of the heavy clearing on Mt. Carmel slopes.]

Tuesday, September 30, 1975

September 1975 Notes

September 14:
Robert almost rides on a motorcycle, then decides against it. “I shouldn’t tempt Higher Forces…”
September 20:
Article in Appeal-Democrat [which article?]
(Around this time, members are making trips to Skandia Restaurant on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, one of Robert's favorites, to learn recipes so they can replicate them at Renaissance.)

Saturday, September 20, 1975

"The Fellowship of Friends"

[ed. - This is a placeholder. The Appeal-Democrat newspaper in Marysville, CA featured an article titled "The Fellowship of Friends," but the contents are unavailable.]

Sunday, August 31, 1975

August 1975 Notes

August 2:
Kairos I celebration under the "Franklin Oak" in the Shakespeare Meadow
August 10:
Meeting with Callaway winemaster Karl Werner in the vineyard nursery. It was announced that he will be moving to Mt. Carmel.
August 23:
“Cocktail party” atop “Mount Carmel”

Thursday, July 31, 1975

July 1975 Notes

July 5:
4th anniversary of the purchase of The Farm (roughly 1,000 acres, supposedly purchased at a price of $50 - about $284 in 2012 Dollars -  per acre.) A celebration was held under the great “Franklin Oak” (a valley oak) in the “Shakespeare Meadow.” The celebration continued at the new “Blake Cottage," and as we all strolled in that direction, the sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon wafted over the late afternoon scene. For participants, it was an enormously emotional experience.
July 6:
Tonight, the first dinner was hosted on the Lincoln Lodge “Mozart Deck.” And dining on the “Beethoven Deck” below, the rest of us. What a contrast to the experience of dining casually on the front patio. [This was the beginning of formal dining for all members. Previously, "fine dining" was essentially confined to meals hosted by Burton (or an alternate host) in the "Meissen Room."]
July 22:
Robert asked that “’playing the fool’ [an exercise  for promoting "presence"] be terminated for two to four weeks, to see if we wish to retain the tool.”

Monday, June 30, 1975

June 1975 Notes

June 4:
The “leg crossing exercise” announced. (We’re to avoid crossing our legs – even such as tucking them under chairs, with ankles crossed.)
June 9:
A house adjacent to the original property has just been purchased, and is being cleaned out. [ed. - This will be called the “Blake Cottage,” and serve as Burton's residence. Eventually, the "Goethe Academy" will supplant the small house.]
June 10:
Donald MacDonald left the Fellowship of Friends today. This was an incredible shock, as he was seen as “the rock”! Robert was clearly saddened and had difficulty presenting this news. [ed. - Donald was one of those Burton claimed were evolving "Men Number 5," one of the "conscious beings" his school was fated to produce.]

Saturday, May 31, 1975

May 1975 Notes

Dr. Karl Werner leaves his position as founding winemaster for Callaway Vineyard and Winery
and will oversee the development of the Fellowship's vineyard and winery.
He will officially become a Fellowship member on June 1, 1975. Photo: The Elysian Society

May 8:
Robert wore a suit and tie to tonight’s meeting (!) [ed. - Must have been the first occasion]

He said “higher forces may be decreasing the employment of ‘playing the fool’.”
May 12:
Robert’s "birthday." [ed. - His birth date is subject to debate!] The day was clouded by a “swimming incident” on the Yuba River. Cheryl Thompson, a Fellowship member, was swept away while swimming in the river, but was rescued downstream. This would give rise to a "no swimming" exercise.
[ed. - On May 29, 1980 this would become a "task" after Robert learned of Raymond Kennedy's drowning in Bali (or Tahiti?).]
May 18 – 27:
The vineyard nursery is planted with Chenin Blanc grapevine cuttings.
May 23:
The "Cabernet Slope" was planted with grapevine rootings

Callaway Winemaster Karl Werner arrived at the Farm today to oversee vineyard operations
May 26, Memorial Day:
We set the aim to complete the vineyard nursery project today (a “super-effort”). It actually wrapped up around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.
May 27:
After finishing the nursery, a mid-night meal was served at the Lodge. In typical fashion, to reward our efforts, letters clarifying donation requirements were handed out as we dined.
Riding to the Bay Area Meeting later in the day [now May 28], I was on I-80 west of Davis. I awoke as the motorcycle had drifted off the pavement, and into the gravel shoulder. Fortunately, I firmly steered straight, rather than make any abrupt change, and gradually slowed to a stop.

Wednesday, April 30, 1975

April 1975 Notes

April 1:
Robert gave members the “task” to avoid witty remarks (which, he said, often come at another’s expense and always draw attention to oneself.)

Sunday, April 6, 1975

The Imitation Meditation Room

[ed. - From a member's personal journal entry.]

With Yuba County Building inspectors due to visit, today Fellowship of Friends members converted the upstairs dining room (referred to as "The American Room") to an "Imitation Meditation Room". It is a violation of code to have a second floor dining room, but the room has regularly been used as such and, if the ruse works, will continue to be used for serving lunches and dinners to members.

Monday, March 31, 1975

March 1975 Notes

March 3:
There is a new exercise [at The Farm]: for housework to continue until 2:00 a.m.
March 4:
In order to create the “third state”, Robert announced he would stop “playing the fool”. [Playing the Fool: Acts designed to create an altered state of consciousness in oneself, and in others. According to Burton, these occasions "create memory."]
March 18:
[ed. - Contradicting his earlier announcement, at the Bay Area Meeting:]

Robert “borrowed” a dollar from Joel Friedlander, then took off his shoe [likely a Gucci], placed the dollar inside and set it afire. When the dollar had been consumed, Robert poured the ashes back into Joel’s wallet.

Friday, February 28, 1975

February 1975 Notes

Union 76 logo, omen for Robert Earl Burton, Fellowship of Friends cult leader crystallizing in 1976
Union 76 logo, an omen signifying
Robert Burton will "crystallize"
as a "Man Number 6" in 1976.

The first week of each month is considered "Farm Week" and Fellowship members in outlying centers are encouraged to make the journey to Oregon House to join in projects underway at the Fellowship property.

February 13:
A Caterpillar D-8 is delivered to The Farm. It will expedite the clearing of land for future vineyard.
February 24:
A Fellowship truck hauling a D-8 "ripper" attachment to The Farm lost its trailer. The trailer and implement sailed off into a ravine along Marysville Road. A potentially deadly accident.

Other Notes:
Robert Burton stated the Union 76 gas stations, with their illuminated spherical signs high in the air, represent an omen, signifying Burton would "crystallize" as a "Man Number 6" in 1976. The ubiquitous service stations would cause students to "be present" and remind them of the miraculous event approaching. (Union Oil apparently knew nothing of this mystical influence.)

The Fellowship Farm is supplied with fuels in bulk from the Union 76 dealer in Marysville. While purchasing fuels for "farm use" and taking advantage of tax savings, the Fellowship commonly (and illegally) used the fuels for "highway use." In fact, the Fellowship sold fuels to members traveling to and from the farm.

Friday, January 31, 1975

January 1975 Notes

Skyline Community Church where Robert Burton's Fellowship of Friends cult held meetings in the 1970s
Present day Skyline Community Church in Oakland. In the 1970s and early 80s, the Fellowship held weekly meetings here.
"Remember when we used to meet at the Skyline Community Church in Oakland? The minister there said he wished he could get the attendance that we were getting! A student asked me at one of the meetings what it was like to be conscious, and I replied, "The agony and the ecstasy." Now I see that it is true for all of us. The sequence is the agony - the labor to engage presence - and then we have the ecstasy - divine presence. Time may come when men with angels may participate. - John Milton When I was a young teacher, I also said, "You are not what you observe; you are what observes." It is a big relief. I remember that once at the Skyline Church, to create the third state, I asked everyone to throw their shoes to the front of the room. It felt like an elephant had reincarnated itself! We played the fool then to produce presence, but that is behind us now." - Robert Earl Burton, Fifty Years with Angels
January 2:
Returning to Los Angeles from Oregon House, Helga Barth [ed. - aka Guinevere Ruth Mueller] and Jim M. are severely injured in an accident along Interstate 5's "Grapevine" after both fell asleep in the vehicle they were driving. The vehicle ended up under the trailer of a semi-truck.
January 7:
For the weekly Bay Area meeting, Robert Burton decides to try a new venue, a country club in Alamo, CA. Once everyone had gathered, he decided the new meeting place was "too public" and the meeting was moved back to Skyline Church, reconvening at 9:00 p.m.
January 21:
A drilling rig has been making repeated attempts to find water atop Dixon Hill [ed. - aka "Mt. Carmel"]. This, to irrigate the future vineyard. Now 315 feet deep, the drill still has not found water.
January 23:
Abandoning the mountaintop, the drilling rig was moved to the "trailer park" [ed. - later called "The Court of the Caravans"] where it quickly found a relatively shallow source estimated to produce 75 to 100 gallons of water per minute.
January 31:
A basic salaried position working at the Fellowship's Oregon House headquarters is $50 per month, and includes room and board. Salaried employees are not required to make donations. (But it's also understood they may be "asked" to work 6 or 7 days a week, for that salary.)

Thursday, January 2, 1975

The price of fatigue

January 2 – Driving from The Farm to Los Angeles at night, following the holiday festivities,  Helga B. [Guinevere Ruth Mueller] and Jim M. were involved in a very serious accident on Interstate 5. Apparently both had fallen asleep, and their Volkswagen veered out of control and was crushed under a semi truck trailer. Helga suffered severe head injuries and Jim equally severe internal injuries.

[ed. - This would give rise to the "exercise" requiring front seat passengers to remain awake, and assist the driver in doing so. But it would not be the last incident involving Fellowship members falling asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle. In the Fellowship, especially in the early days, there was a fine line between pushing one's limits, and what was termed "lunatic efforts," which exposed members to the risk of illness, injury and psychological harm. Other examples of fatigue from just a brief period follow. From members' journals and notes:]
March 17, 1975: On a shopping mission, I fell asleep standing in a phone booth outside Terrell’s Plastics. A passerby's comment woke me.
April 19, 1975:  An example of a common state in the school: Anthony S. was actually falling asleep between bites at dinner. His head eventually dropped into his plate of food, much to the amusement of others at the table.
May 27, 1975: Riding to the Bay Area meeting later in the day, I was on I-80 west of Davis. I awoke as the motorcycle drifted off the pavement, and into the gravel shoulder. Fortunately, I firmly held course, rather than make any abrupt change, and gradually slowed to a stop.
[ed. - This note recalls the "legend" of Bernard G. riding the same motorcycle home from the Bay Area meeting to The Farm.]
Date unknown: A car carrying Fellowship members passed Bernie on the highway. A short time later, the motorcycle passed the car - without Bernie. He had fallen asleep and tumbled from the motorcycle.
July 13, 1976: I was so tired that when I inquired of the Coffee Tree waitress “can you make pot high?” I didn’t even notice. I intended to ask if she could heat up the pie for my pie a la mode.
August 30, 1977: At work both Saturday and Sunday mornings, I observed some interesting behavior, the result of fatigue and "disconnection of centers." I actually fell asleep while serving customers, waking to the strange, incredulous expression on their faces. I even fell asleep counting out change, awaking to find I had given too much change, the body continuing the counting motions after my brain had shut down. I would have liked to have been an outside observer. On the way home, I found myself "sleep-walking," walking right off the curb and into the street.