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.

Thursday, July 31, 1980

Anglicization of names

[ed.- Around this time, Robert Burton directed Fellowship members whose names were not English to choose an "anglicized" name. As with many refugees arriving in America in the 20th century, Burton viewed this measure as necessary to avoid the persecution of "outsiders" that would inevitably be precipitated by the calamities he predicted (the depression of 1984, the 1998 fall of California into the Pacific, and nuclear holocaust in 2006).

Linda Kaplan was enlisted to assist members in expediting the adoption of new names. The changes naturally caused family conflicts and estrangement between members and their non-member friends and relatives (who were in any case considered expendable "life people.") In Burton's grand scheme, this was all acceptable collateral damage.

Curiously, as Fellowship recruitment in the United States declined and foreign centers began producing the majority of fresh recruits, Burton's concerns about persecution faded.

What follows is but a small sampling of the absurd surname changes.]

Achitoff - ASTOR
Bassat - GRACE
Berkan - ROBERTS
Berrizbeita - WOODBERRY
Biagi - YORK
Borowiak - DALTON
Calpouzos - CAMBRIDGE
Domingo - WILLIAMS
Dragovich - DRYDEN
Finegold - TAYLOR
Focazio - BROOKS
Friedlander - FAIRCHILDE
Gabreski - MEDLEY
Gallardo - PEARL
Grenados - ROSEWOOD
Kloumann - NEWMAN
Lundquist - COLLINS
Maryanoff - MILTON
Mautz - PALMER
Morales - MOORE
Nikhazy - BRITAIN
Partusch - PARKS
Poulain - WINTERS
Poznanter - ASHLEY
Rissenberg - FAIRCHILD
Salazar - AUGUST
Schmitt - SCOTT
Schwartzberg - FALLBROOK
Shimono - WOODS
Trezevant - WREN
Venerella - STERLING
Wehrlich - CAMBRIDGE
Weingarten - COLLIN
Winiarski - WINDSOR
Wirk - WEST
Yamasaki - DAY
Zimmerman - STUART

[ed. - Below are two pages from the Renaissance Journal. The first shows actual surnames prior to the anglicization dictate. The second shows acceptable English-sounding names.]

Renaissance Journal, February 26, 1979, prior to the anglicization edict


Renaissance Journal, July 1, 1981, after the anglicization edict


July 1980 Notes

The Fellowship of Friends Lincoln Lodge Oregon House, CA July 1980
The Lincoln Lodge with its Mozart Deck viewed from Slope 1, July 1980 (Photo: T. Campion)

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
Let us toast to the 9th anniversary of our beloved Renaissance, which carries a great responsibility for posterity, for it is here the gods have taken their stand to ensure humanity shall survive Armageddon. – Robert Burton, July 4th
Centers closing this year: Minneapolis (June), Baltimore (June), St. Louis (June), Cincinnati (July), Montreal (July), Detroit (August), Hawaii (September).

No athletics (this is a "task")

No more open meetings for prospective students – they were deemed ineffectual

No popular or rock music allowed in "Teaching Houses" (private homes where meetings take place)

Members can now use the address “Renaissance, CA” on mail

"Pantheon Industries" is dedicated

July 3 and 4: Tales of Hoffman

July 19 and 20: Menahem Pressler

July 26 and 27: La Boheme

August 25 and 26: Beaux Arts Trio

September 6 and 7: Zara Nelsova
Current Membership: 1,383
Photo: illumination (artwork)

Saturday, July 26, 1980

Controlling the flock: tasks, exercises and suggestions

[ed. - Robert Burton's sometimes wacky exercises continue to this day. As previously stated, Burton assigned different levels of severity to his demands. Violation of a "task" from The Teacher resulted in serious consequences, possibly including fines or even excommunication. Violation of an "exercise" usually drew a much less serious punishment, often only a mild public or private rebuke, or "photograph" - a verbal or gestural indication of a lapse.]

The Work of Our Spiritual Teacher

The principal work of our spiritual teacher is to initiate and prolong Divine Presence in the lives of Fellowship members. He does this in many ways: by conveying special knowledge; by offering exercises, personal tasks, and opportunities to work; and by simply being and allowing us to be. All such efforts spring from his own Divine Presence, and his desire to convey this reality to us.

How does he work in the moment? At one level, he may use an inspired reference to something close at hand as a way of bringing a person out of an inattentive state and more deeply into the present. At another level, he may use all methods and instructions as a way to sustain presence once it has been achieved.
After a period of sincere effort, a member comes to understand that awakening is neither the practice of one exercise nor the overcoming of one obstacle alone. It is a way of life.
Awakening has become the way of life of our Teacher, and he invites us to join him in this life.

Drawing by Harold Wirk posted on Internet Archive

From 2008 Fellowship of Friends Guidebook for Centers:
The Teacher does not wish us to maintain written lists of school tasks and exercises. He has commented that such lists are institutionalizing and tend to evoke the lower self. Instead, he asks that information about the exercises be communicated verbally.

Thou Shalt Not Laugh

"Purchasing awakening" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 10, 2007:
About laughter:

“Buddha’s laughter is both an expression of, and a inspiration for, enlightenment. ”
Now, from Robert:


Dear Friends,

The Teacher has requested that we work with an exercise of not laughing for one month, until November 23. The exercise applies only to the Apollo d’Oro area. Robert noticed that the seven of hearts is more prone to occupy space around food, and the aim of the exercise is to help us gain control over this part of our machine.

Linda T. [ed. - Linda Tulisso (Kaplan)], Apollo


Dear Friends,

Robert wishes us to resume indefinitely the exercise of not laughing around the dining table, as the King of Clubs particularly uses this circumstance to lure us away from the present.

On his last journey, while dining with friends in Abu Simbel, Robert observed a neighboring table, whose diners were laughing loudly. Because Robert and his entourage had set the aim at the beginning of their travel not to engage in laughter around the table, observing this table of non-students was a useful lesson for them. Robert commented, “C Influence are great teachers. Observing this table laughing is an even more useful lesson than the ancient site we just visited.” Robert gave several angles about laughter, but towards the end, a new connection came to his mind. “I only now realize that the Chartres devil is laughing, showing that through laughter the king of clubs overthrows the nine of hearts.”

Linda T., Apollo

From Robert: Laughter is far from innocent.


Dear Friends around the world,

Robert sends us the following message, with his love.

Thank you for giving up artificial laughter for real presence. It is the key to success for our school; one of the few instances one gets something for nothing.

In friendship,

Linda T., Isis


Dear friends,

Robert sends the following message to students around the world, with his love.

When you are at the table, please avoid sharing funny stories that are true, such as humorous incidents that have actually happened. In the guise of telling the truth, the lower self is trying to introduce laughter and open the door to the seven of hearts. Please reserve such stories for other occasions to avoid laughter around the table.

In presence,

Linda T, Isis


Dear Friends,

The Teacher requests that when a picture is being taken of us, we should try to be moderate in our smile and not show our teeth. Robert points out that the instinctive center, being animal intelligence in human form, likes to display its teeth.

The poster below illustrates the point.

In friendship,

Linda T, Isis


Dear Friends,

Attached are two images that Robert related to his recent request that we not show our teeth when a picture is taken of us. In both cases, the devil’s teeth are showing.

With love, from Buenos Aires.

Linda T.

"Kid Shelleen" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 10, 2007:
“It’s also very Caucasian homosexual.”

If I ever form my own band, that’s the name:

“The Very Caucasian Homosexuals”

(I wonder how Freudian this is?)

I might like to throw “Casual” into the name somewhere. Please feel free to weigh in on this matter.

Someone asked earlier about how students keep a straight face in current meetings. Here’s a Warning-Signs-You’re-On-Your-Way-Out story:

Guinnevere was a travelling teacher visiting our center sometime in the late ’90s. She was leading a meeting on Saturday night and even the people who didn’t come to meetings anymore were going to be there. I had a music gig that evening so I arrived late with a huge amount of light-hearted, positive energy circulating in me. Maybe I was in what we use to call “Essence”. I walked in the door, or should I say snuck in, and stood for a while in the foyer dispassionately witnessing the whole scene. I was struck by the incredibly heavy energy in the room. Why was everyone sooo serious? G was going on and on about something and everyone was sitting in their seats like a repentant elementary school class receiving admonishment from Mother Superior.

At an appropriate interlude in the action, I grab a folding chair and slip into place in the circle. I am seated directly across from Mike and Don, a couple of rogue thinkers and good friends. The kiddy classroom vibe continues no matter how hard I try to turn it off. “Come on, now”, some voice is saying, “this is serious stuff.” And yet, my whole being seems to be infused with this eight year-old child yelling, “Hey, lookit all these people all dressed up playing pretend.”

Everyone is quiet for a moment. I look at Don and he’s obviously doing his best good student act, but I can see the smirk right there at the corners of his lips. Mike is studying his tie. He then proceeds to roll it up from the bottom to about mid-chest and let it roll back down. I’m not sure if he is intentionally doing this for me, he had told me a couple of months before that he always plays with his tie when meetings bore him, or if he’s just amusing himself.

Somehow the subject turns to love. Can’t remember the exact question, but we’re on to love. G starts the Robert engine, “Of course as Men #4 we cannot know what love is…” And then she says, “Perhaps we could start with a flower. One could try to love a flower. One could make that one’s aim for several months.” Do I detect a smile on Don’s lips? Is Mike’s tie flying up and down his chest like a gag blind in an old I Love Lucy episode, or is just my imagination (running away with me). I feel a sudden impulse to laugh. I stifle it and stare at the oriental carpet at my feet.

“..and then after learning to love the flower, one could move onto a small dog, perhaps.” That was it. “a small dog.” Don’t defeat your will by starting with a large dog. A burst of laughter exploded from my mouth, although it felt as if it jumped right out of my chest. I tried to disguise it as a cough, but I could tell by the faces around me, no one was buying it. And on G went with the ladder of love for man #4. I couldn’t stop The Laugh. I have to pretend that I’m having a coughing fit and leave the room. I’m standing in the Kitchen and I can’t stop laughing. I try several times to compose myself and return and each time I come un-glued as I enter the room. Finally, I pull it together and return.

Photograph received. (one from G, one from center directors, one from myself)

The moral of the story is be careful (isn’t that always the moral), for if you start to laugh at meetings you will lose the school.

And remember, Uncle Gurdj says: “There is no laughter in higher centers.”

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 24, 2007:
115 Fat Boy

“I believe what is encouraged is gentle laughter rather than cackling.”

In my day at least, the expression was “gentle mirth.”

So Fats, have you verified that people have a choice about the way in which they laugh–that Mr. Burton, for example, could, if he allowed himself, “cackle,” instead of doing that little tee-hee he does in response to his own jokes? Have you verified that someone who has always responded to humor with a big belly laugh could, if she chose, adopt a mincing little giggle? Has it occurred to you that the reason Mr. Burton made this exercise is that he naturally laughs a certain way, and that the real exercise is to act like Robert Earl Burton naturally acts?
And have you verified that people who laugh one way are more conscious than people who laugh a different way? Have you verified that telling people how to laugh is more effective than suggesting that people just be aware of themselves, however they are, without trying to ape Mr. Burton?

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 24, 2007:
117 Just Another Voice Out Here

“Has it occurred to you that the reason Mr. Burton made this exercise is that he naturally laughs a certain way, and that the real exercise is to act like Robert Earl Burton naturally acts?”

I think it’s more that RB has a uncontrollable need to control everybody and everything within his sphere of influence. It’s unmitigated greed, narcissism and psychopathy.

Thou shalt set aside the first bit of food

"Purchasing awakening" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 10, 2007:
Playing with food:

Dear friends,

Regarding the new exercise of setting aside the first bite of food, this only applies to the initial act of eating: whether the meal includes one course or several, one is to set aside the first bite of only one of the courses, not the first bite of each course. Moreover, the Teacher is encouraging us to choose the bite that is the most attractive to the instinctive center, both in selection and in size, as it is the bite the instinctive is most reluctant to relinquish.
The exercise is designed to show us how important food is for the instinctive center, when in fact what is truly important in that moment is consciously controlling the instinctive brain.

Thank you for your diligence.

Linda T [ed. - Linda Tulisso (Kaplan)]


Dear Friends,

To further clarify the exercise of setting aside the first bite, we are to set aside the very first bite of our breakfast, lunch, or dinner meal, and not the first bite of the principle course if we are having more than one course at the meal. The idea is that this exercise is most effective when the machine is hungry and most interested in food, not when it has already taken a few bites from the course before the principle one.

Our Teacher comments that when we put the first bite aside, we are making an offering to our own presence.

Thank you.

Linda T


This idiotic exercise created “first bite policeman’ at almost every dining table. I am sure you know what I am talking about. Also it helps to promote one’s vanity since students often try to make sure that our first bite is noticed by others at the table. Some choose the best bite and later talk about how they managed to put it aside. This is self-delusion.

“The exercise is designed to show us how important food is for the instinctive center…” – Duh! do you need an exercise to be shown this? I though it is pretty obvious. Does anyone have doubts about importance of food and nutrition?

How about… simply eating? Why not enjoy your meal without all this silly circus?

"Jana" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 22, 2007:
...To make women look unsexy and unattractive he invented infamous “pant” exercise. Women had to mandatory wear skirts on the property, even if they were working on landscaping and it was clearly not practical to wear a skirt while working. Young attractive women looked like a bunch of village grandmas in those stupid long skirts…

...Then he came up with an exercise of not coloring aging grey hair for women, so to let them “naturally” age and look old and unattractive. All of the “infra-sex” exercises were against women and their natural beauty.

Then finally he came up with anti-serving exercise in 2006, saying that men shouldn’t serve women at the table anymore, because it is feminine dominance...

"Mauretania" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 5, 2007:
On the subject of misogyny:

Does anyone reading this have any direct knowledge about how the skirt “exercise” started – the first time?

When it was first instituted, there was NO Rose Garden for anyone to be sighted in, so the story about RB propositioning a masculine looking woman there is suspect – unless that was what brought about the second imposition of this lifestyle rule.
The first time that was handed down as an exercise was about 1980 or 1981. It was in place for several years, perhaps through the 80′s. It came back for a time in the 90′s. At the point RB declared pants to be an acceptable nuisance, it was always accompanied by the statement that “Nothing is being given, because nothing was taken away”.

"Pensate un attimo" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 24, 2007:
This morning message from ‘the teacher’: wow!!
Dear Students,

Although you may have read or heard something different, all students are reminded that the exercise of not spending unnecessary time with former members has not been changed. All members are also requested to refrain from reading and participating on what is known as the “Blog” and the “greater fellowship” or similar websites.
Robert stated: “This exercise comes from Influence C. You can support Influence C and not be a denying force to Influence C.”

The Fellowship of Friends

"Stella Wirk" wrote on the newsgroup "alt.smokers", May 11, 1994:
Smoking already is some kind of a "moral" issue, and we have experienced this first hand. We both were members of a small psychological self study group -- the leader of which decreed that everyone should stop smoking or leave the group. We didn't want to do either. Thus, when we met our friends and the custom was to hug each other, the friends seemed to be "sniffing" us when they hugged! Sure enough, one of our friends "turned us in" for smoking in the privacy of our room, and we were FINED by the group -- not a simple fine. We were fined $3,000!

Well, that's another long story, but the point I'm pressing here is that people feel "righteous" about banning smoking, as if "God is on their side," and they are totally in the right no matter what, as you have pointed out in your essays. Pretty scarey situation.

Of course, we are no longer in the group I mentioned! (It has since turned into a cult - not surprisingly.)

While in that group, we also discovered that some people would get up in the middle of the night and go to the garage and look into the ashtrays in other member's cars - and report any cigarette butts found there! A fine would be levied!

It is too ridiculous.

[ed. - Below, Ames Gilbert alludes to the task that Burton's teacher Alex Horn gave Burton: to avoid sexual relations with Horn's male followers. Reportedly, failure to follow this task resulted in Burton's expulsion from Horn's group, leading to the creation of the Fellowship of Friends.]

"Ames Gilbert wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 29, 2007:

Burton visited Alex Horn last week in an effort to get Alex to lift the “do not have sex with men” exercise, imposed 40 years ago; Burton has realized that not following this task is what is preventing him from becoming anything higher than a mere man 7.3.

However, negotiations have broken down, because Alex wants twenty percent of the take (past, present and future) and the same sexual access to the women that Burton has to men. Burton can only “guarantee” compliance from women students that are in the inner circle, and Alex is unimpressed by their photos.

But Horn did accept a heavy gold bracelet from Burton, and Burton accepted a pillow from Alex, so there may be a breakthrough soon.

See also "My4bits" discussion of the "sex exercise".

[ed. - in the late 1970s, Robert Burton began requiring that those followers who with non-English surnames change their names to an English surname. He stated this was necessary as Fellowship members with foreign names would be persecuted as civilization began to unravel as a result of the  disasters (depression, Fall of California, Armageddon) he predicted. The following represent a small fraction of the name changes:
Annis became Heartwell
Barth became Brighton
Borowiak became Dalton
Buzbee became Laurel
Cherbavaz became Castlewood
Chudnow became Lexington
Compagno became Westly
De Los Santos became Daniels
Des Laurier became Lane
Duran became Lamb
Eichman became Ashton
Friedman became Creighton
Goeree became Chancellor
Granados became Rosewood
Guido became Guild
Haldeman became Huntington
Kahler became Highland
Larson became Shepherd
Leavitt became Linden

Levy became Roberts
Lyras became Collington
Lichtenberg became Fields
Mueller became Eton
Neuschatz became Chappel
Pera became Claremont
Pontecorvo became Hudson
Puglia became Chandler
Rolfer became Somerset
Schmitt became Scott
Sjeerslee became West
Solomon became Stratford
Spurling became Irving
Troccolo became Gray
Wehrlich became Cambridge
Winiarski became Windsor
Wirk became West
Yamasaki became Day
Linda Kaplan (at the time, safely named Linda Rockwood by marriage) was instrumental in "helping" members comply with the new mandate. As many serious followers undertook legal name changes, the "task" further estranged individuals from their "life families" whom Burton described as "dead to you." "You-me-us-they" provides more exercises from a later era. As English is not their native language, I have avoided noting grammatical errors.]

"You-me-us-they" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 17, 2007:
I will enlarge the subject to “exercises” or “tasks” the school provided now and then, with the premisse that I was fined twice for breaking the smoking exercise.

Can I state that, with the money my habit generated, I provided the necessary ressources for at least the acquisition of one palm tree, enhancing, hopefully, the general ladscape at Isis?

By the way, I could never look at one palm without thinking it was an ejaculating erected phallus!

When I joined the School, the sex exercise was “on” and I liked it (sort of guaranty for basic morality). For those who does not know, the practice was: no sexual activity out of the mariage form. In 1998, it was over.The form of the mariage got ridiculised. Then, I liked that too, till some extend.

The smoking exercise was also in the package. Yet, I was told that earlier days, it was very much “in” to smoke long, elegant cigarettes. Rich boxes filled with cigarettes of all brands would simply circulate around tables!

Ok, it’s over! Why ?

Till this day, I could never really get the point (except sacrifice and Robert’s dislike).

Could it be health ? Well No! How could that be considering the constant promotion of wine or other stronger alchools, well known for taking your forces away ? Now, since the 3 glasses exercise (still on ?), to stop drinking is more fashionable than the opposite, but believe me it was not always so…

I actually dicovered alchool in the FOF!

Read on this blog the many happy/nostalgic comments on “bottles”, “vino” meaning friendship, sharing and so on…

Once I invited a friend for a “petit déjeuner”, with “croissants”. When I asked “Coffee, tea ?” He answered “do you have red wine ?”

I got a bit allarmed… But not enough since I sat in front of a doctor for help with a possible alchool addiction some 10 years later!

For some exercise, each failure corresponds to a financial fine to be paid. So, I guess the sex exercise gave substancial regular source of income to the FOF…

The smoking exercise probably still do.

The spychological tool of imposing rules and having you touching them with your “being” could be quite a trip when investigated.

You fail, you tell the truth and you are “punished”, made clean with money, big hug and good luck with your addiction!

You fail, you lie, no declared need for a big hug, good luck with your addiction.

Your do not fail because you hide, good luck with your addiction!

You are a non smoker, you win. Big hug, good luck with your addictionssssssssss!

By any chance, are you a woman ? Because then, the skirt must be added! No fine though but simple eclusion, unless you wear one even on top a pair of trousers (!), from the gardens and any possible school event.

Believe it or not, I like rules as well as rituals (I truly believe we need them) and, I also belive we are mature enough to state them for ourselves. We know what is needed, appropriate and, we all have flavour for effort and things well done. There are a lot of people out there making efforts to stop smoking or drinking or watching porno… Why do they bother? Do they all have a RB ?

Obey, disobey, eventually, it does not matter, irrelevant, over, over! What matters is You.

As Gurdjieff said to one of this pupil:

everyone can stop smoking (she stopted under his demand for about 2 years), now take a cigarette!
When the flow is mainly forced/controled by external authority then, we enter a space of ‘obedience’ which seems very immature.

But it might be needed! Why not ? Are we still so far beyond the Father/Mother thing ? Again, it does not matter!

Play the game (the bad boy is still a role in the game)and wake up to the game! That’s it!

Jeronimous Bosch painted the last judgement. 3 panels. Hey? How come Paradise is as unconfortable as hell to look at ?

Watch your teeth when smiling… Even more carefully if tobacco stained them!

"You-me-us-they" added:
Forgot to add several valid option:

Exercises are there so you feel guided (dragged at times but never mind, you are never alone!)

Exercises help you connecting with the concept of “effort”.

Exercises (promotion as well as prohition) around sex, drugs and Rock are easy way to make money by speculating on your vices (FOF, Tabacco/Music industry and what not).

Exercises are given till eventually, they reveal themselves to you for what they are: useless.
Over! What matters is You!