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, October 31, 1979

October 1979 Notes

Fellowship of Friends treasures on display inside Lincoln Lodge September 1979
Fellowship treasures on display inside Lincoln lodge, September 1979 (Photo: T. Campion

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
Send photos of fine French architecture to Renaissance
Only English and French should be spoken – other languages will die
Phase out soft drinks in favor of wine
October 27 and 28 concerts: Menahem Pressler
1,313 members
October 31: Member Joseph Moreno died
Photo: chandelier over cruciform cabinet

Other Notes

October 25:
From an ex-member's notes, an example of Burton's need to micro-manage:
"Robert sent Edward B. and myself to San Francisco for the Rolls Royce and instructed us to have coffee and a hamburger at the Coffee Tree, dinner at Trader Vic's, attend the opera, and have coffee and "cherry-berry pie" at the Coffee Tree on the way home. I imagine we will look back and wonder at these strange times."
October 31:
Fellowship member Joseph Moreno is killed in an airplane crash in Mexico City. He was sent to help open the new Mexico City Center.

Early days of youthful industry and naive optimism

Early crush at the Fellowship of Friends' Renaissance Winery (Photo: T. Campion)

"Wouldn't you like to know" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 11, 2007:
The Fellowship of Friends began on January 1, 1970 in Lafayette, California, where the Teacher was residing at the time. It began to grow as the first member of the Fellowship introduced other interested persons to the Teacher. In the beginning, there was no organized advertising effort: contact with the Fellowship was by word-of-mouth only, and exposure was limited to the Bay Area of California.

By December of 1970, the Fellowship consisted of 25 members. During that Christmas, the Teacher decided to begin the search for property that would serve as the Fellowship retreat, where efforts on all three lines of work could be pursued. Each member (including the Teacher) contributed a sum of money equal to one month’s gross earnings, or $200, whichever was greater. It was the desire of the Teacher that this property not belong to any one member, NOR TO HIMSELF, but that it be a joint ownership. HE WISHED ALL MEMBERS TO FEEL THAT THE FELLOWSHIP WAS THEIR OWN. ‘You must feel it is your own work. A School can exist only when people feel not outside but inside, when they think of it as their own house.’ (The Fourth Way)

Property was found in the Sierra foothills and purchased six months later. By this time, the Fellowship had grown to approximately seventy members, most of whom resided in Northern California cities such as Vallejo, Vacaville, Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Although two members had joined from Los Angeles and one from Seattle, the Fellowship had yet to begin its national and international expansion. Work began immediately on the property, which was formally called Via Del Sol (i.e., The Way of the Sun) and informally referred to as The Ranch. While certain members chose to leave their occupations and move to The Ranch to assist in its development, others remained in the Bay Area to hold prospective student meetings.

By Christmas, 1971, the efforts of these members had resulted in a membership of 100. In addition to meetings in the Bay Area, prospective student meetings were also conducted in Lake Tahoe and Carmel. Contact with the Fellowship at this time was still by word-of-mouth. A core of new members began to form in Lake Tahoe and Carmel. Soon, these two locations were referred to as the Lake Tahoe and Carmel ‘centers,’ and the decision was made to reach other interested persons who had no direct connection to current members. Because it had always been the Fellowship’s policy NOT TO PROSELYTIZE, the Teacher chose a method to make the Fellowship available to those who were searching for a real School: bookmarks. Bookmarks were placed in relevant books in bookstores throughout California. This advertising method proved so successful that members were encouraged to place bookmarks in stores wherever they traveled.

By Christmas, 1972, centers were established in Carmel, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, and Hawaii. Within six months, the list of centers would include San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Sacramento. Two to three members were chosen to ‘direct’ each center. Sometimes additional members were also asked to move to help start a center. These people became known as ‘supporting students.’

In addition to placing bookmarks, the directors began to advertise in local papers. Centers were opened in Seattle, Washington (October, 1973) and Portland, Oregon (February, 1974). The Hawaii, Portland and Seattle centers proved so successful that the Teacher began to consider opening centers throughout the United States. By Christmas, 1975, about sixty members were chosen to open ten centers throughout the United States: New York, Pittsburgh, Miami, Washington D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Denver, and Phoenix. On January 1, 1976 these members, who had celebrated the Fellowship’s sixth anniversary the night before at Mount Carmel (which was the name now given to The Ranch), assembled en masse to set out for their respective cities. It was an exciting time in the Fellowship’s history. These members had willingly relinquished their jobs to move to a city where they knew no one and where no job awaited them. In some cases, one member in the center had gone ahead of the others to locate a large house which could serve as a Teaching House. Teaching houses served as lodging not only for the center directors and supporting members, but also for members traveling to the city. Teaching houses provided members with the opportunity to do intensive second line of work since it was not uncommon for members of different body types, features, centers of gravity, and alchemy to be placed together.

Once the Fellowship had planted seeds throughout the United States, it ventured across the Atlantic to England, France, and Germany. Centers spread rapidly throughout Europe. Paralleling the growth of centers was the growth of Mt. Carmel (then Apollo; now Isis), which began in earnest late in 1973. At that time, Karl Werner was introduced to the Fellowship and agreed to help with the construction of the vineyard and winery. Clearing (which at first was done mostly by hand) began in April 1974; in the spring of 1975 a nursery was started; and in 1976 the first vines were planted (slopes 1 and 2). Work on the winery began in 1977 with the construction of the cement pad for the fermentation room and the raising of an inflated dome to cover it. The first tiny harvest (a few tons) occurred in 1978. Other facilities were also being developed. The Lincoln Lodge, originally a rickety log cabin, underwent almost continual modification and finally became Apollo d’Oro. The Town Hall (now known as the Prytaneion), originally conceived as a book bindery, was completed in 1978, and in 1979, the Blake Cottage [Robert Burton's residence] began its conversion into what is now the Galeria Apollo.

Today, the Fellowship has extended itself into Asia, and South America. Isis continues to grow, and students from all over the world participate in the development of the community. The methods of expansion remain the same: one or more members move to a city, place bookmarks in designated books, await the phone calls of prospective members, and hold meetings to introduce the System to these persons.

Contributed by "Wouldn’t You Like To Know"

Monday, October 1, 1979

Life in the Chicago "teaching house"

[ed. - These reminiscences have been inserted in the timeline approximately when the events described took place.]

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 31, 2015:
Re: #28 “Denial of Death” article

In the fall of 1979, I was asked to move from Santa Barbara to the Chicago center, located in the small town of Ravinia, on the shore of Lake Michigan. I still remember that time in vivid flashes, now and again.

The house was spectacular, a grand old midwestern mansion with a formal dining room, gigantic kitchen, a grand staircase, library, servant’s quarters and attic. There was a vast basement with ancient plumbing and a decrepit heater that barely kept the place warm, consuming oil by the truckload (steam heat). One poor student’s sleeping quarters were down there, near the noisy beast!

The rest of us were crammed into every habitable nook and cranny of the house, from the attic to the servant’s quarters. My assigned room when I arrived was an upstairs “sun porch,” no doubt fine in summer, but a barren icebox in winter. After toughing it out for a few weeks, I begged for another room, and was offered the floor of a very large closet in the master suite’s dressing area. I gratefully unrolled my sleeping bag there each night for the duration of my stay.

Not that any of us had much time for sleeping. Most of us were working two jobs to meet the rent, utilities, food and teaching payments, as well as paying for elaborate “traveling teacher” dinners and other incidentals that arose. In the cold early mornings, some of us would walk to the train station and ride into Chicago together, often meeting up again late that night for the trip home.

I remember one train ride in particular, at the end of a long day’s work at my two jobs, as a proofreader at Ernst & Whinney, followed by a part-time night job at Northern Trust Bank, typing crop reports. I had brought a book to read with me on the train, probably inspired by one of the little “daily cards,” bearing a quotation from a “conscious being,” that were given out each week.

My book was Plato’s Five Great Dialogues, and I was reading “Phaedo.” I remember having the sensation of my mind being drawn up into a higher plane of thought, feeling the clarity and power of the ancient philosopher’s words reaching me across time and space. The existence of the soul was assumed. The light of the mind was self-evident. I felt the connection. At the time I considered it a “higher state,” and I still do.

So there’s a little gratitude story here, one of the finer moments in my life that happened as a result of the efforts of my fellow friends in the ‘ship…the ones who typeset and printed those daily cards on the hand presses, the ones who established the far-flung teaching houses and worked to “create memory” for each other, who walked with me along the snow covered streets of Ravinia in the deep winter nights….a reminiscence sing.

"Cathie L." added, June 1, 2015:
"I don’t remember doing much else in Chicago besides work and sleep. Museum trips? Socializing with my fellow “slaving overpaying cult members”? Sure, probably. I was only there for one winter, then it was back to California to join the slaving, practically unpaid cult members in the Renaissance office."

"Pastor Yorick" replied on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 1, 2015:
32. Kathie L. [sic](above) I guess I just missed meeting you. I moved from the Chicago Centre to CA in the summer of 1979 at the same time the Centre moved from the Glencoe house to the mansion you describe. At the Glencoe house, which was right next to Lake Michigan, several of the men had to stay on a porch on the Lake side of the house through the winter, including me. We had to buy cardboard “wardrobes” to hang up our clothing. It was freezing! Though such things weren’t shared with most of the students living there, I suppose that we were evicted from the Glencoe house once the owner/landlord discovered that something was “fishy” there. (I don’t know this for certain.) Abe G. [Abraham Goldman] and the female centre director, pretending to be a wealthy couple, met the prospective new landlords and arranged for the new rental. Intentional insincerity. I don’t know why I put up with so many things that went against so completely my grain and my upbringing for as long as I did. I think it was due to the quite sophisticated brainwashing that was going on.

"Parson Yorick" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 27, 2015:
When I left, first I moved out of the “Teaching House” where I was living, and then I stopped making “Teaching Payments.” I kept my job with Pacific Bell and moved into an apartment with a co-worker whose wife had recently left him. Soon the reason for her leaving him became pretty clear; this co-worker of mine was a gun buff and an alcoholic. Not a real good combo, but at least he had no connection with the FOF. A FOF “student” whom I respected and trusted arranged to meet me at a coffehouse in the Pruneyard shopping center and we discussed my intention to “leave the school.” That was about 4 1/2 years after I’d joined and it was my last official contact with the FOF. A few months later I was promoted at work and got a hefty (50%) raise. The new problem became what to do with all the extra time and money. For a while my solution was to spend more of both in various Los Gatos bars. I had a few interesting chance encounters with other former students and attended one “reunion” type gathering. Then I mostly ignored the FOF until a couple of years ago. I noticed that Abe Goldman (whom I’d known in the Chicago Centre) was listed as deceased on the State Bar website, so that aroused my curiosity. I also learned from a musicians’ website that Michael Goodwin had died in an auto accident. I began looking around on the internet to find out what the hell was going on. That is when I found this and other blogs. I feel quite fortunate that I never went on staff at Renaissance. I don’t think I ever realized how bad conditions were for the people there.