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.

Saturday, December 31, 1977

December 1977 Notes

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
As of January 1, 1978, the minimum monthly donation will be $100.

The Fellowship is eight years old.

There are 1,055 members.

Other Notes:
(From the Internet Archive) The Fellowship's growth rate slowed by 80% during the 2nd half of 1977

Thursday, December 15, 1977

The Fellowship of Friends computerizes

[ed. - Around this time, the Fellowship installed an IBM System/34 computer at its "Ouspensky Office" in Oregon House. Primary functions were financial management and database. Once again, the Fellowship's historical roster was "reset," this time with Robert Burton assuming the Member #1 position (replacing Bonita Guido, who had previously occupied the #1 position.)

With a few notable exceptions (such as James Vincent Randazzo and Yorgos Savides), the names of those who left before this time were dropped from the rolls, with only names of current members retained on the roster. Initially, there would have been around 1,055 members listed. But going forward, the names of those subsequently leaving would remain on the roster, with the member being listed as "released" (by Influence C).

Wednesday, November 30, 1977

November 1977 Notes

Robert Burton's Fellowship of Friends cult Meissen Room extravagance
Chicken Kiev served on Meissen porcelain, Fiddle & Shell silverware, Baccarat crystal in Meissen Room (Photo: T. Campion)

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
Austrian display cabinet purchased 
Sheraton bookcase purchase 
Meissen Room dining table restored 
Strict drug guidelines published 
56 acres near mountaintop cleared 
Bindery is being framed [subsequently the "Swan Building", and "Town Hall"] 
Cabernet Sauvignon to be planted on Winery Knoll this winter

Other Notes

November 14:
Robert suggested we try using "I" now. [Thus ending the "word exercise" of avoiding the use of "I".]

      Monday, October 31, 1977

      October 1977 Notes

      From the Fellowship of Friends Wiki Page:

      [ed. - Thoughts from "The Teacher," Robert Burton, with apparent index number shown.]
      We appreciate art because we recognize that sex energy has been nobly directed. Generally, men use it to destroy one another; there have been approximately fifteen thousand wars in the last five thousand years. (100377.24)

      People who are involved in art have deviated from the right use of sex energy by pursuing the arts rather than higher centres. (100377.34)

      Friday, September 30, 1977

      Master Bookbinder Max Adjarian moves to Renaissance

      Photo of Max Adjarian, 23-yr old French bookbinder
      for Cornell University, 1953

      [ed. - Max Adjarian moved his bindery to Renaissance and trained members in his trade. His shop was at one time housed in what is now the Apollo Festival Hall. See also this touching remembrance by his daughter, M. M. Adjarian: "What Abides."]

      From the Lodi News-Sentinel December 23, 1953:
      Cornell Bookbinder Got Start In War

      The banning of Boy Scout meetings in occupied France during World War II started a young Parisian on a hobby that led him to the Cornell University library as a bookbinder.

      When the meetings were banned in France in 1942, Max Adjarian and two other scouts decided to teach themselves how to bind books. Two years later, Adjarian packed a ton of equipment and set out for America. He visited Ithaca residents, liked the city and the Cornell campus. He applied for work and was quickly accepted.

      Victor Emanuel of New York, Cornell alumnus and trustee who donated Cornell's Wordsworth collection, helps to sponsor Adjarian's work of restoring rare volumes from that collection and others in the library.
      Also see: https://web.archive.org/web/20150511235641/http://library.ucr.edu:80/view/collections/spcol/bookarts/bookbinding.html

      September 1977 Notes

      Robert Burton Fellowship of Friends cult Renaissance Journal edited by Linda Kaplan
      Sample page from the heavily-edited Renaissance Journal.

      "Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
      The "Renaissance Journal" has been inaugurated (Taking the place of the "Mount Carmel Journal". This usually consists of the notes from the regular Fellowship Bay Area meetings [heavily edited by Linda Kaplan Rockwood.]

      The purchase of land (at Renaissance) by students is encouraged  
      January 1, 1978: Fellowship plans to acquire 60 acres, across Rice’s Crossing Road, west of Blake Cottage 
      Shakespeare Study [library] is being converted to the Oriental Dining Room 
      Exercise: If one ends a relationship, one must remain celibate for one year

      As of October 1st, the re-entry donation will be $2,500

      Other Notes
      "The Teacher" announces that if one is more than 6 weeks behind in payments, one is no longer in the school.
      “Everyone is current in their payments…save four or five people.” – The Teacher
      [ed. - Note the use of "payments," not donations. This was before the push to emphasize the Fellowship's status as a "church." Also, the statement is false. In the tiny Dallas Center alone, there were three or four behind in "payments."]

      The Fellowship of Friends opens a center (centre, that is) in London.
      The more one serves, the more one must pay. It is admittedly difficult to accept that the highest retribution we may receive from Influence C is additional friction. Nevertheless, suffering does produce imperishable being. - The Teacher, Renaissance Journal, September 26, 1977.

      Wednesday, August 31, 1977

      August 1977 Notes


      "Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
      July 4: Brunch at Whitman Glen

      June 30: Foundation of Bindery poured [subsequently the "Swan building," and  "Town Hall"] 
      July 12: Concrete block work begun on Bindery
      50 acres along ridge [Dixon Hill/Mount Carmel/Mount Renaissance] above Lodge were cleared (expanding on the original 79 acres) 
      Chandelier with cherubs purchased, now hanging over spiral staircase 
      Foyer torcheres purchased  
      July 11: exercises introduced. No talking of weight, or the weather. No smoking.

      Antique printing presses purchased and are being restored

      Other Notes
      "Mount Carmel Monastery" has been renamed "Renaissance".

      "Mount Carmel Journal," August 8, 1977
      You may eventually find my role is to instruct more than any teacher in recorded history, and you will have more words from me than from any conscious teacher in the past. And yet no man said more with fewer words than Jesus Christ. Regardless of how much I give, human nature is insatiable and will wish for more. It is also inherent in a conscious teaching that a teacher must publicly bleed. I speak because I must. The pace of our dear School is quickening, and it will forever do so as long as there is light within it. - The Teacher
      [ed. - Effective August 24th, the Mount Carmel Journal became the Renaissance Journal.]
      Design ideas are being solicited for the proposed "Leonardo Da Vinci Winery."

      Jay and Carol Jones leave the Fellowship
      The London Center opens

      Sunday, July 24, 1977

      Prophecy

      [ed. - This journal note from a naive member of the Fellowship of Friends center in Dallas, Texas was prophetic. Richard Buzbee, a new member they helped recruit, and his young son Troy, departed Dallas to be closer to leader Robert Burton in Oregon House, CA. Indeed, they were to become far too close.]
      "Richard and his son, Troy departed Thursday morning [for Mount Carmel]...It will be a major event in his life I'm certain."
      [ed. - Read further about this "major event":]
      "Ex-Member Sues Yuba Sect, Alleges Sex With Minor"

      "Troy Buzbee Lawsuit"

      "The Buzbee Letters"

      "Trouble Taints a Cerebral Sanctuary"

      Thursday, June 30, 1977

      June 1977 Notes

      "Mount Carmel Journal", June 6, 1977
      The desire for a relationship can be a strong force in the lives of students in the the Outer Circle. - The Teacher

      Policy for those who are behind on payments ("donations") and are given a "payment schedule" to make up for "payments in arrears" (otherwise known as a "debt to The Fellowship of Friends.")
      • Failing to adhere to the payment schedule could result in the member being asked to leave the school.
      • They would then be required to make a $2,000 payment to re-enter The Fellowship.
      • They are also forbidden to attend Fellowship of Friends meetings and functions (even those occurring in their own "teaching houses") until they are within six weeks of being "current" in their payments ("donations") to The Fellowship.

      Tuesday, May 31, 1977

      May 1977 Notes

      The maintenance barn and vineyard nursery (right) (Photo: J. Keller)

      Zinfandel slope planting is completed, Sauvignon Blanc slope planting is proceeding.
      May 15:
      Fellowship office moves from Carmel to Mount Carmel (Oregon House, CA)
      The Fellowship passes 1,000 members

      Friday, April 1, 1977

      Robert Earl Burton, The Givenchy Gentleman

      Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Earl Burton's cologne Givenchy Gentleman

      [In the late 70s (and perhaps beyond), Burton was perpetually accompanied by an "atmosphere" of Givenchy Gentleman cologne. Depending upon wind conditions, acolytes detecting the telltale traces of the fragrance were spurred to greater "presence" in anticipation of the guru's imminent arrival, or perhaps anointing the room with his recent passage. One of Burton's "conquests" suggests the fragrance was used to mask the traces left from Burton's "voracious appetite" for young men.]

      Saturday, March 26, 1977

      "Old FOF" recalls a 1977 New York meeting

      [The Fellowship of Friends] is the greatest mystery of the Twentieth Century, and a series of shocks is necessary for this to be verified. - The Teacher, Mount Carmel Journal, July 11, 1977
      [ed. - This remembrance, some thirty years later, is added to the timeline roughly where it may have occurred. There apparently was such a meeting on March 26, 1977 and again on June 25, 1977. ]

      "Old FOF" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 4, 2007:
      Wanted to be sure to thank students for the recent information about the number of students still remaining for now in the Fellowship of Friends, and the outward flow. It will be interesting to follow – and I expect, and fully believe, that a tipping point has been reached.

      You could call this blog the symbol of the tipping point, but from the outside looking in – it senses more like the middle of the tipping point. Upon hearing that Robert had begun “teaching” again maybe three year ago, a friend remarked that something dramatic must have happened – as we both knew that Robert Burton would do about anything before leading meetings again.
      Whatever induced Robert Burton to begin “teaching” since he had stopped in about 1977 is likely the beginning of the tipping point.

      Because, in a certain way, and this is a strange thing to write – Robert Burton although superficially a good teacher, is in reality – not a good teacher. At another post, I may write up an account of a hilarious prospective student meeting that I once saw him lead (with the single prospective student almost literally running away out of the door); and of Robert teaching a meeting in a tiny center – absurdist. He did have a way with the energy of big meetings – but when you went back and read his angles, they were strangely flat and reductive.

      Plus, at a certain point in the late 1970s, Robert Burton stopped feigning the responsibility of a teacher, and with a Wal-Mart like impulse, began to essentially outsource any teaching responsibility to his jumped-up idea of C-Influence. Kind of like the old saying, “God cures, but the doctor takes the money.” Now, Robert Burton no longer had to take responsibility for his actions and decisions as a teacher in regard to individual students – it was all C-Influence. In the process he redefined the act of “teaching” with minimalist duties for himself. In passing, might I add that the 30 work Is and the Sequence have seemed to me to be other examples of this Wal-Mart like impulse – crude non-personalized tools that require little by way of teaching. Even in 4th Way terms, how long before “the machine” makes simplistic words or phrases (or a mantra) fully mechanical?

      In any case, for me, the symbolic and essentially actual end of Robert’s active teaching period back then was the New York Meeting in about 1977. New York was the unofficial hub of the East Coast (U.S.) teaching centers that had started in two waves beginning in late 1975 into 1976 (although some might argue that for a while the hub was the Washington D.C. center). New York was part of the second wave to my memory, but had grown very quickly.

      There was a big gathering of East Coast (and southern) center U.S. students in New York – and it is hard to overstate the energy and tension that attended the sense of THE Meeting that weekend. Some of the students had come from up-to or more-than 1,000 miles away for this. The energy and expectation of the relatively new students (and us “older” students of maybe 24 months duration) was just so powerful and palpable. Robert led the meeting, as he did all of the weekly northern California meetings then – and seemed OK although maybe a little off – for perhaps the first 15 minutes (or less?). But, maybe say a quarter of the way through the meeting, Robert stood up and kind of nodded to Miles who was sitting next to him AND who seemed bewildered for a moment – but who then understood that he (Miles) was to continue leading the meeting, and did what seemed to me a remarkable job of it. By the way, this had never happened (to my memory) before this. Anyway, Robert walked off and (strangely) sat during the remainder of the meeting at the top of the stairs of the NY teaching house. Most of us could just see his legs. (kind of funny in 30 year hindsight).

      After the end of the meeting the tension had been released and energies were running high. A group of us had been invited to dine with Robert at Pappagallo’s restaurant (the NY teaching house was on Long Island at the time). While we were waiting to be seated, Robert took Miles off a few feet and berated him publicly for giving an angle during the meeting to the effect (about features) that “power proposes; willfulness opposes” – calling the angle extraordinarily formatory – not a simple rebuke but lasting a number of sentences – and given in a somewhat savage manner.

      At the time, to me, this public rebuke seemed churlish and plain wrong to offer to Miles, who had just done an admirable job of the meeting (which seemed like relatively few of us could have done). Even then, I had the sense that Robert was trying to re-establish any possible dominance that he may have lost by possibly seeming unequal to the task of leading the meeting (which idea hadn’t occurred to at least me, until then).
      In any case, there may have been a few meetings that Robert Burton led after that, but not many, if any. He just stopped leading meetings.

      The online video snippets of Robert in “recent” teaching mode (in which he appears to me to be somewhat sedated?) have been interesting and good reminders of how bad and essentially clunky his so-called teaching style really is, and was.

      Others may have different memories of that event – or thoughts about when these periods in the Fellowship of Friends history started or ended (symbolic or actual).

      [ed. - At one of these East coast meetings, Burton also expressed the notion that Mount Carmel would someday have elephants and giraffes, and that the first elephant would be named "Dee-etta," in honor of the D-8 bulldozer. He said that people also laughed at Noah.]

      Monday, January 31, 1977

      Private inurement

      During the late 1970s, one example of Robert Burton's violation of IRS rules for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations was his regular use of Fellowship salaried employees, equipment and vehicles, and supplies in providing housekeeping and yard-maintenance services for his mother at her home in Sacramento.

      Saturday, January 1, 1977

      January 1977 Notes

      Lord Pentland [Henry John Sinclair, 2nd Baron Pentland] of The Gurdjieff Foundation visited Robert Burton at Mount Carmel.

      [ed. - Exact date is unknown. As reported by Stella Wirk, Lord Pentland, accompanied by Jacob Needleman, came seeking contributions for the production of a new film based upon Gurdjieff's book, Meetings With Remarkable Men. It is reported that instead of money, Burton presented Pentland with a fancy embroidered pillow, an inside joke alluding to Pentland being a "sleeping machine," not an awakened, conscious being like Burton. The following account of the visit is from the Gurdjieff Journal.]
      "In the late 1970s Lord Pentland, the man Gurdjieff appointed to lead the Work in America, visited Burton's mansion to interest him in financially supporting the film, Meetings with Remarkable Men. Burton believed, however, that Pentland was coming to hand over all his students because he had realized Burton's higher development. As a gift, Burton gave Pentland a beautiful and expensive sleeping pillow. Seated with them at dinner were a number of Burton's top students. The next day one of them left Burton to study with Pentland saying, 'There was just no question of which man was awake and which asleep.'"

      "brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 5, 2019:
      I was there then.
      If I remember correctly Pentland brought a few people, notably writer Jacob Needleman, who was a pompous ass with his cigarette holder. Also, as I remember from the Meissen Room dinner, Pentland was not impressed with RB [Robert Burton]. But he was there to solicit money so he was somewhat courteous. Robert did his pseudo-humble nodding at the solicitation but stated that he needed all the funds to “build his school”. Also Pentland, when being exposed to the pomp of the Meissen Room, stated that he’s spent much of his adult life getting away from such pretension. And RB gave him a gift…a hand embroidered little pillow. After Pentland left RB told everyone that he gave the pillow to him to indicate to Pentland that he knew he was actually asleep and didn’t posses the level of being that RB had. It was a meeting of assholes and egomaniacs at best.