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.

Wednesday, September 30, 1981

September 1981 Notes

"Renaissance Vine" [summarized]
August 29: 5.8 tons of Cabernet and 2.7 tons of Zinfandel harvested

Wit exercise rescinded

1,357 members

Photo: apples (orchard?)

Other Notes

September 2:
Children’s Play. [At Hans Christian Andersen House?]
September 4:
Harvest the white varietals [Suavignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling?]
September 5:
Harvest Petite Sirah

Friday, September 25, 1981

Stella Wirk's letter to Robert Burton

[ed. - This text is taken from a webcache of Stella's old Geocities website. The Stella Wirk collage below is from a Fourth Way School tribute.]

Letter to Robert Burton
September 25, 1981
Stella wrote this letter for almost a week, trying to have it "just right" to effect the desired results. It was not written in haste or in anger, nor out of personal displeasure or likes and dislikes. Each page began with a quotation Stella felt was appropriate.

"The stage of external conformity is useful in its own way as a spiritual discipline; but it is by no means free from evil effects, for it not only tends to make a man dry, rigid and mechanical, but it often nourishes some kind of subtle egotism. However, most persons are attached to the life of external conformity because they find it the easiest way of placating their uneasy consciences...." Discourses III, pg. 112, Meher Baba.

September 25, 1981

Dear friend Robert,

Perhaps it is prudent to mention at the outset that the writer is not negative. What is written here is with an even tone of voice. There are some current aspects of the school about which the Teacher may need or wish to know. Conditions mentioned herein have been increasing for years. Simple observations are presented, and questions fall where they may, without malice and without justification.

Some information has to do with the growing intolerance for differing manifestations and views, several older students seeming to forget entirely about different levels of being, knowledge and perception. (A variety of expressions can be expected from a variety of students, and can be tolerated provided they do not express negativity.)

The emotional level or morale of the school is being threatened when center directors, traveling teachers, and visiting older students make obvious judgments and open condemnations of other students. Newer students are quick to imitate, and the infection spreads, making feminine dominance [sic - a term coined by Burton] a legitimate way to express negative emotions.

The negativity is expresseed either directly and blatantly, or by manifesting a disregard for personal feelings, that which we formerly labled "using the Work to destroy." Students spy on one another, an activity that is producing an increasing distrust of the heirarchy.

Meaning no disrespect whatsoever, the question arises if the Teacher knows today how many tasks are set upon students (or that they think are tasks)? When it was exclaimed by the Teacher that "all suggestions, requests and exercises would henceforth be considered tasks," the formatory apparatus in people was quick to identify with the "all or nothing" terms.

Formatory thinking has produced a sort of "flypaper" effect of all this, sticking together the word "tasks," roles in the teaching (the "visible vine"), and just about everything the Teacher has ever uttered, to where the Confusion of Tongues is enormous, and the results may be psychologially damaging to some people.

Formatory thinking cannot cope intelligently with the circumstances. There is an unconscious "group collusion" that exists; that is, a kind of "group-think" that everything that happens is "all part of the teaching" which turns out among many students to be merely an alibi for all sorts of meanness of spirit and incredible pettiness.

Page 2:

"We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly; and because there are so few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship; for to undertake to wound and offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him....Plato prescribes three qualities in a man who wants to examine another man's soul: knowledge, good will, boldness." Michel de Montaigne

It is not that these things "should not be happening" since they are happening; it is a small example of the Ray of Creation, where initially things start out conscious and finish mechanically at the moon.

The very nature of the school makes it difficult to notice or acknowledge that something may be awry. Spiritual work is ripe for the full range of human foibles (features) because of the excellent coverup that self-deception lends for the use of the spirit in the service of false personality. The memory is evoked of the "play" of James Vincent Randazzo. The particulars are quite different, of course, and the mechanics are the same --- "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

When handing a long list of rules to a group of machines to enforce, with impunity to themselves, the results are well known ("I was only following orders"). It may be that the Teacher is expecting that everyone is doing his or her inner work properly (he said once that it was difficult for him to remember that students are not Men No. 5).

Positive results cannot be gained by violence, repression or coercion. The manner in which many students work with the present volume of tasks is violent and repressive, making the tasks themselves an instrument of coercion rather than tools for awakening. The fines resulting from infractions are exorbitant, producing inordinate fear unrelated to evolution (or the wishes of higher forces as explained by the Teacher). The internal direction of the school is becoming emotionally impoverished. The situation is will-defeating.

Sincere second-line work of any depth is not encouraged; it is not emphasized from the top, so it cannot be promoted from the bottom. Those who try to do second line work, are met with a popular bufferthat re-defines everything as "heresy" if it does not coincide withthe present "Renaissance approved imagination currently in vogue." The momentum for this aspect began about 1978 when the Teacher stopped teaching publicly, and students increased lying at meetings.

Naturally, there is a need for structure, and some effort was made in the past to prevent the organization from becoming an institution. Nevertheless, organizations become formatory.

It was reported that at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, recently, the director of the festival said, "When we began the festivals, a group of actors came together to do plays. In order to do plays, an organization was formed. Now we do plays to keep the organization alive."
People in the Fellowship who are paying a minimum of $450 per month, which often is half or more than half of their income, eventually begin to feel they merely are "keeping the organization alive." the outward appearance belies that which is really going on inside people.

Page 3:

"The transition from external conformity to the life of inner realities involves two steps: (i) freeing the mind from the inertia of uncritial acceptance based on blind imitation and stirring it to critical thinking, and (ii) bringing the results of critical and discriminative thinking into practical life. In order to be spiritually fruitful, thinking must be not only critical but creative!..." Discourses III, Pg. 117 Meher Baba

In California, there is an increasing trend to advise students that "anyone who admits of any personal difficulty is merely admitting that they have not turned themselves over to higher forces." Therefore, who would dare to admit difficulties? These kinds of buffering angles come from people who sit at thefront of the meeting, and students assume that anyone who sits at the front of the meeting is speaking for the Teacher himself. Thus, anyone who is credentialed may intimidate others by inuendo, implication or direct threats ("higher forces will release you for this!"), which effectively silences people.

Those who have somewhat begun to penetrate the inner circle are aware of the value of this work and the school. This valuation, for some people, is being diminished by their observations. Can it be that the school will disregard individual differences, capacities, body type, centers of gravity, features, education, family wealth, and other affluence gained through the law of accident?

Belinda Rockwood recently verified the message she is giving,which is: "The aim of the school is to produce consciousness in the students; the task of the school is to produce the Ark. The Teacher is most interested in the Ark, and is leaving the aim to be accomplished by Influence C." (Quote is approximate; message is the same.) This announces that the Teacher approves of the "blind leading the blind," since most students merely speak about Influence C and do not experience it for themseles (some people experience it in imagination such as the fellow who heard "angel footsteps behind him" while he worked at the Goethe Academy).

One cannot "talk" the emotional center into feeling something that it does not feel. Mechanically, there are people who will accept anything, do anything, say "yes" to anything, and for all appearances they seem to be in the inner circle -- and they are not. Several older students feel that the inner circle is very small.

A school is said to be for healing and then for regeneration; presently there seems to be little evidence for either. Healing is required now, and is described as the "return to an original principle." The original principle is that this Work is for inner psychological transformation, the ultimate aim of awakening. The identification on the part of many students with the emphasis on external activity is sacrificing the aim.

The concern here is that people are not being healed, nor are they being shown the direction toward healing; they are being made insane. There does not seem to be something "to do" about this, since the way everything has progressed the responsibility for changing anything is that of the Teacher.

Page 4:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself only, what am I
If not now --- when?" Talmudic Saying

Michel de Montaigne says that it is very difficult to turn one's gaze inwards on oneself. He says that it is akin to asking ocean waves to flop backwards on themselves when they hit a beach (and the only way that they can do this is if they hit a wall). A lot of members find that following the external structure is sufficient, gazing outwards and forcing themselves on others, although they imagine they are working, and they are very sincere.

A review of the rules is needed to effect beneficial results since, presently, if the results of the rules are not "wrong" they are unfortunate. "Fools do not need watering." (Verdi).

The school has had refreshing changes in the past, and this suggestion does not seem to oppose the wishes of higher forces.


Thank you for always being my friend, and for being so generous to both Harold and me. My interest is to be of help and perpetuate the atmosphere for inner work that was so available to everyone in former years. I am very thankful and grateful for my continuing association with you.

Most sincerely and fondly, your friend,

(signed) Stella.

Stella's Notes:

10/10/81: Robert's reaction to reading this letter was to put the letter hastily into his coat breast pocket saying, "Well, you just can't please everyone with the form of the school" (as told to me by Barbara Haven who said Burton read the letter in her presence and made this remark -- he was in England at the time).

Notes added later.

5/25/94 Hindsight: Eleven years after meeting the man Robert Burton, my knowledge of his private life and activities was almost nil! A few months later, the truth came out which offended my naive sensibilities. I did not know the depth of my naivete until much later. Hence, I wince at some of the foregoing letter, for trying so hard to not offend Burton, when probably it was impossible to actually offend the man.

11/18/94: Very few people have ever seen this letter. I did not send it to everyone. My current understanding is that FOF has a collection of letters praising RB and FOF over the years, and may try to use them as a form of "defense" for the situation.

I don't know if my letter was kept, and they could extract my last comments to RB to try to infer my support for RB. Out of context it may sound supportive; in context I was trying to get my larger message across to someone whom I thought would be able to receive it. He was not able.
Rumors over the years have claimed I begged RB to come back to FOF, and this is not true. Neither Harold nor I ever once asked anyone about returning.

All contact with FOF was terminated sometime in July 1982, twelve years to the month that we began this unusual experiment.


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