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, March 31, 1982

March 1982 Notes

Snow covers the slopes of Renaissance Vineyards, March 31, 1982 (Photo: T. Campion)

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
March 20 and 21: Israel Trio
March 27: Renaissance Orchestra and Chorus
March 17:
Karl Werner resigns from Presidency of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, but is later reinstated.
March 19:
Management changes at Renaissance?

Monday, March 15, 1982

The Psychology of the Cult Experience

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 4, 2015:
“Although it is possible for those who have left cults to integrate their experience into their lives in healthy ways, many are unable to.”

[ed. - The text of the NYT article, published on the Ides of March, follows.]
New York Times
by Glenn Collins

The same story makes the headlines again and again. An anguished family is trying to "rescue" its child, who has, the parents charge, been "stolen" by a cult, sometimes after only a single weekend of involvement. The parents describe the child as a humorless "zombie" - where formerly he or she was self-possessed, intelligent and completely "normal." And, as family members begin to consult the clergy, lawyers and deprogrammers, they keep expressing confusion about exactly what has happened, and why.

A new understanding of the psychology of the cult experience is emerging from the work of researchers and clinicians who have studied current and former cult members. While stating that not all cults are necessarily psychologically damaging to their members, the researchers' findings offer insights about the proper treatment of those who have been harmed, as well as the techniques that cults use to hold the loyalty of old members and attract new ones.

Some researchers suggest that the study of the cult experience has important implications for theories about the functioning of the human brain.

"Many cult groups have developed basically similar and quite compelling conversion techniques for exploiting the vulnerabilities of potential converts," said John G. Clark Jr., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard University Medical School. The Marks of a New Disease

Dr. Clark has, in his private practice and with colleagues in Boston, treated and studied more than 500 current and former cult members since 1974. "In some respects," he said, "the destructive effects of cult conversions amount to a new disease in an era of psychological manipulation."

"When kids come out of cults, they have symptoms you just don't normally see," said Stanley H. Cath, a psychoanalyst and associate professor of psychiatry at the Tufts University School of Medicine who has treated and studied 60 former cult members over the last decade. "But many practitioners are ignorant of this 'disease,' and don't know how to treat it."

Although the researchers said it is possible for those who have left cults to integrate their experience into their lives in healthy ways, many are unable to. Among the common negative characteristics exhibited by the former cult members studied, said Dr. Clark, are depression, guilt, fear, paranoia, slow speech, rigidity of facial expression and body posture, indifference to physical appearance, passivity and memory impairment.

Robert Jay Lifton, professor of psychiatry at Yale University Medical School, said that many in the psychological professions may not be aware of, or deny the existence of, clinical difficulties posed by cults. "There is a widespread misunderstanding of the phenomenon of persuasion that can bring about intense change in people," he said. A Matter of Brainwashing

Margaret T. Singer, professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "The techniques of many cults fall under the general rubric of brainwashing." Dr. Singer has studied 700 cult members since 1974, and has investigated mind-control techniques since she did research on repatriated American prisoners of war for the Army during the Korean War.

"Consciously and manipulatively," said Dr. Singer, "cult leaders and their trainers exert a systematic social influence that can produce great behavioral changes."

Dr. Singer explained that such groups "have taken techniques from the human-potential movement, from the encounter, sensitivity training and humanistic-psychology movements, and combined them with cult ideology and persuasive sales methods - and packaged them in various combinations."

Dr. Singer estimates that there are 2,500 to 3,000 cults in the United States, "with dozens of small cults too numerous to keep track of." The number of cult members nationally is variously estimated at 300,000 to three million.

Not all cults are destructive, the researchers said, and many of those who join and remain in cults do so out of a sincere quest for religious connection. Whether or not a cult is destructive is determined by the morality of the cult leader and the nature of the leader's charismatic dream, said Dr. Cath. "Most of the malign cults are frightening to people when their tenets are revealed, as with the People's Temple after Jonestown," he said. A Cult Defined

Dr. Cath defined a cult as a group of people joined together by a common ideological system fostered by a charismatic leader, where, he said, "the expectation is that they can transcend the imperfections and finitude of life."

He said: "Often they set up a we-they philosophy: We have the truth and you do not." In what Dr. Clark called healthy, valid groups, conversion is achieved in good faith without coercion, and the individual is encouraged to reconcile himself to his history, his family and his culture, even when he may be working for change in his society. "But in destructive cults," said Dr. Clark, "current and prior connectedness is denied."

Dr. Clark said that the pattern of manipulated cult conversions may not appear especially radical to outsiders, since no one is beaten or otherwise physically harmed. "But hundreds of ex-cult members and their families have attested to the enticement practices of these groups," he said. "Under the force of the conversion experience, people disappeared from their families and changed, sometimes after only a few days."

Dr. Clark is one of the founders of the Boston Personal Development Institute, a nonprofit group that treats former cult members and advises their families. He and his associates there have treated former members of the Unification Church, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Scientology, the Way International, the Divine Light Mission, the Children of God, the Church of Bible Understanding and smaller, less-prominent groups. From the Middle Classes

The majority of those studied by Dr. Clark were from the middle and upper middle classes and ranged in age from 15 to 31. Most of those treated by Dr. Cath range in age from 13 to the mid-20's, but some are in their 50's and older. Their average age is 19 1/2. More are male than female.

Frequently they are intelligent youths from sheltered environments who have had contact with religion but rejected it, Dr. Cath says. He believes that many have a history of failing to achieve intimacy, of blaming others for their failures and of constantly striving for perfectionistic goals.

But Dr. Clark feels there is no standard profile of the "destructive-cult victim." "Orthodox psychiatric opinion has generally viewed conversion to deviant groups as a function of longstanding conflicts within individuals," he said. "Our evidence strongly suggests that these individuals are succumbing to pressures within the cult milieu - pressures that can induce radical personality changes as easily in normally developing people as among disturbed ones."

Dr. Singer said that the 700 cult members she had studied presented a wide range of personality types. "You don't have to be a certain kind of person to succumb to the cults," she said.

A typical manipulated conversion, Dr. Clark said, involves a vulnerable person - a student leaving home, or at exam time, or someone who has lost a friend or lover - who is enticed by some reward: companionship, peace of mind, a place to stay or an implied sexual offering. "Cult recruiters frequent bus stations, airports, campuses, libraries, rallies, anywhere that unattached persons are likely to be passing through," he said.

"Then they narrow the attention of the recruit, in controlled social situations," Dr. Clark said. "He or she is invited to attend a special function, or series of classes. Cult members are assigned to attend the prospect constantly. Eventually they keep the mark involved in group-ecstatic activities, or use meditation, obsessive praying, constant lecturing or preaching or lack of sleep to maintain the mind in a constantly debilitated state." A Crisis Is Manufactured.

At some point during the experience, he said, "the mark is placed in a panicky, disoriented state, and an emotional crisis is manufactured by the recruiters." One response to this, Dr. Clark said, is that people can become psychotic. He has treated those who became so and were "dumped" by cults that had no further interest in them.

"Another response," he said, "is that they can adapt to the situation, and accept the 'answer' or 'solution' to the crisis that the cult furnishes them with. To survive, they reidentify with their surroundings, and accept the dogma of the group."

Dr. Singer believes that there is increasing awareness of cults among mental-health professionals, especially in campus milieus where the activities of the recruiters and the effects on students are well known. "But too many professionals automatically link cult involvement to psychopathology," she said.

"There is a great need for psychiatric humility here," said Dr. Lifton of Yale. "I think it might be stressed that the whole cult phenomenon is a social, psychological, spiritual and economic problem, and the answer may not be psychiatric at all."

Dr. Clark said he does not work with deprogrammers. "However," he said, "before therapy can take place, the patient's attention has to be gotten, and the patient needs information about the cult group. In that sense, deprogramming has a dignified provenance."

The researchers said that some of those who had joined cults had simply chosen the lesser of two evils - especially teen-agers who had escaped destructive family situations by joining cults.

A number of those interviewed, including Dr. Cath and Dr. Clark, said they had successfully treated former cult members. "Usually we can put the pieces back together again with the help of family and friends," said Dr. Clark. A Bearing on Brain Research

Several of the researchers believe that the studies of cult members may revise current theories about the workings of the brain. Dr. Cath and Dr. Clark, working independently, have been intrigued that the experiences described by cult members resemble personality changes regularly associated with disorders of the temporal lobe of the brain.

"The symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy," said Dr. Clark, "are similar to those seen or reported as resulting from cult conversions: increased irritability, loss of libido or altered sexual interest; ritualism, compulsive attention to detail, mystical states, humorlessness and sobriety, heightened paranoia."

Dr. Cath said: "Keeping devotees constantly fatigued, deprived of sensory input and suffering protein deprivation, working extremely long hours in street solicitation or in cult-owned businesses, engaging in monotonous chanting and rhythmical singing, may induce psychophysiological changes in the brain. The rhythmical movement of the body can lead to altered states of consciousness, and changes in the pressure or vibration pattern of the brain may affect the temporal lobe."

Dr. Clark hypothesized that what he calls the "cult-conversion syndrome" represents an overload of the brain's ability to process information. He said: "The unending personalized attention given to recruits during the conversion experience works to overload the prospect's information-processing capacity. This has another important function: the induction of trancelike states. Cult proselytizers then exploit the recruit's suggestibility."

Tuesday, March 9, 1982

The nursery school will have no connection to the Fellowship

[ed. - Fellowship of Friends denials and obfuscation began long ago. Here's a sample from 1982. This later evolved into the Fellowship-connected Lewis Carroll School. "The Lewis Carroll School Association" behind the school was governed by Fellowship members.]

"Board Deadlocks On Hill Nursery School"
Marysville-Yuba Appeal-Democrat
Tuesday, March 02, 1982
Yuba County Supervisors deadlocked 2-2 today on whether to permit a member of the Fellowship of Friends to operate a nursery school in Oregon House.

The tie vote in effect upheld a Planning Commission decision denying a use permit to operate the school, but the matter will be brought back before the board next week, when all five supervisors are expected to be present.

Supervisors George Deveraux and Charlie Parker voted against a motion of Supervisor John R. Dower to reverse the Planning Commission action and issue a use permit. The motion was supported by Supervisor Charles Center but with the absence of Supervisor Doug Waltz, the board deadlocked 2-2.

Peter Dragovich appealed the Planning denial of a permit to operate the school. Dragovich is a member of the Fellowship of Friends, which has large property holdings in the Oregon House area, but insisted that the school would have no connection with the Fellowship.

County Counsel Dennis Barlow advised the board that could not be considered in assessing his application for a use permit.

"Hill Nursery School to Get Permit"
Marysville-Yuba City Appeal-Democrat
March 9, 1982:
Fellowship of Friends member Peter Dragovich today won his permit to operate a nursery school in Oregon as Yuba County supervisors voted 3-2 to overturn a Planning Commission decision denying him the permit.

Last week, in the absence of Supervisor Doug Waltz, the board deadlocked 2-2 on Dragovich's appeal. Today, Waltz voted to grant the appeal and he was joined by Supervisors John R. Dower and Charles Center. Supervisors George Deveraux and Charlie Parker voted against granting the permit, as they did last week.

Dower made the motion to grant the permit "based on evidence presented pertinent to the appeal" that "the site is an appropriate one for the proposed use."

Most of the controversy about Dragovich 's proposed nursery school on Rice's Crossing Road centers on his membership in the Fellowship of Friends. Several former members appeared before the board in opposition to the project, arguing that the philosophy of the Fellowship is such that children will be harmed by being exposed to it.

Dragovich, however, denied that the nursery will be to connected to the Fellowship.

And County Counsel Dennis Barlow advised the board that had Dragovich's "religion" had no bearing on the question of whether to grant him a permit to operate the nursery school.

Opponents also argued that the school would create traffic problems on Rice's Crossing Road, which they said is already hazardous.

In voting against granting the permit, Parker and Deveraux cited traffic problems on the road.

Monday, March 1, 1982

Lance White's story

[ed. - See also "A Fireside Chat with Lance White - Zany Mystic"]

Excerpted from Tales of a Zany Mystic:

Tales of a Zany Mystic

Chapter Three

Gurdjieff-Ouspensky School

"The greatest man in the world has recently died. His name was Gurdjieff” - Frank Lloyd Wright

Malibu 1977. Shopping for an "esoteric school" is not like going to the grocery store. More care should be applied to finding what you need. Reckless romantic that I am, caution was thrown to the wind in my new found goal. It didn't take long to find a bookmark in one of the "work books", as they're called by insiders, and I was effervescent to find a "Center" in Malibu. I called and spoke with a mysterious sounding person, adding fuel to the imaginary fire. There was a "prospective student meeting" that night. Several hours later, I arrived at an inconspicuous home, scared out of my wits. I never met people involved in "secret schools". All I knew was that everyone there knew something I didn't know. The question was, "Is it something I want? ". A small stage loomed in front where an attractive, commanding woman with red hair led. Her name was Helga Barth. Two others sat on either side, all austere. It felt like walking into a library with your zipper undone, spinach in your teeth and squeaky shoes. I was never to lose that feeling, no matter how "high up" the evolutionary ladder I climbed. An invisible hierarchy of ego is easily mistaken for wisdom.

The basic ideas of the "system" were relayed; man is a machine, comprised of not one "I" but "many I’s".

As a result, we are all machines, asleep at the wheel. To confound the problem, we imagine we're "awake". It is precisely this illusion which keeps us from actually "awakening" to our true condition and evolving out of it. The only way out is to become conscious, united within, with a permanent "I". As it is, each "I" rules the moment, and to keep the illusion in place, our name doesn't change, providing a sense of unity. Buffers, like those used to cushion railway cars, keep us from seeing ourselves. We compartmentalize our lives and often have no idea that we are doing something contradictory. A rageaholic says, "You'll never meet a nicer guy", and continues to be the only person who doesn't know he's a prick. I met "straight" and married men who would have sex while drunk, then not remember or would justify by saying, "Oh, I was drunk!", if confronted. None of this was new, but there was a dramatic urgency to their delivery. The most unforgettable moment was when Susan rose and placed a bowl of fruit on her head. Walking across the stage she said, "We don't remember ourselves. We only remember memorable moments" She was right. We broke for intermission.

Robert Burton's "school" was called the Fellowship of Friends, now referred to as APOLLO.

Didn't that missile explode in space?

The SA-9 (Saturn I Block II), the eighth Saturn I flight, lifted off on February 16, 1965. This was the first Saturn with an operational payload, the Pegasus I meteoroid detection satellite.

Outside on the patio, smoking up a storm, laughing, and telling stories was the female version of "Jobba the Hut". She looked like Phyllis Diller in drag with enormous bedroom eyes shadowed bright blue, pink lipstick and a "wrap" like a feather boa. This lady held court. Scared, shy and awestruck, I sat nearby to soak in some wisdom. Her name is Stella Wirk. She and her husband, Harold, were two of the first "students" in the school, run by Robert Burton.

Harold's website:

I didn't know it then, but they would become lifelong friends, in and out of the school. Though she has passed, her irreverent way of teaching can never be for-gotten or replaced. That meeting was 29 years ago. Harold's impish humor and ability to poke fun at anything and everything remains intact. An accomplished artist, he paints murals, draws character sketches and creates hilarious "cartoons" with three precious dogs in Reno, Nevada. We remain in contact to this day.

Stella conveyed deep wisdom through humor. I learned more from sitting at her "round tables" shrouded in cigarette smoke, than I did from the "Teacher". Oh, don't get me wrong; he's quite an imposing figure, and my contacts with him were all "interesting". However, there's more to this story, some of it covered with scandal like a filet mignon smothered in sauteed mushrooms. It felt like I was "auditioning" for entrance into an exclusive club. Prospective students were required to attend 3 meetings before they could join. At that time, entry would be discussed and payments, which were not optional, could commence. Getting in was easy. It was getting out that was a bitch! Of course, I joined. I drove to as many meetings in Malibu as possible, two or three per week. A blank page, a sponge soaking up every detail, I couldn't get enough. My "addictive personality" had found a new home in an "esoteric school". The school's private ranch is located in Oregon House. I was shown the ropes and told I could go up there on weekends to be around the Teacher, and to work, a principle of payment. Slave labor is more like it. Imagine thousands of people around the globe who PAY to donate their time and energy by working on a ranch. What a racket. Hats off to anyone who can compel others to do so, and the Teacher was quite successful. In fact, he had high powered lawyers, physicians and a Wine Consultant leading the construction of a winery, now finished. The main house was called the Lincoln Lodge. Today the school is called "Renaissance". However, it wouldn't surprise me to discover it had been renamed, "Garden of Eden". The Teacher, of course, was God...the ONLY God; aren't they all?

My first visit was unforgettable. We arrived very late in the morning, about 2:00 a.m. Excitement mounted as we turned onto the property. Mysterious energies seemed to hover in the air. I was taken into the Lodge, and told I could sleep "wherever I could find a space". Dozens of sleeping bags littered the floor so I cautiously crept upstairs, stepping over a couple of bodies. The heater kicked on, whirring a warm breeze. Carpets, thick and plush, squished underneath my feet. The perfect spot located under the front window guided my tired limbs. A fat cow of a moon streamed in, blending with the subtle glow of the room. In my cocoon of a bag, like a chrysalis waiting to emerge, romantic visions danced in my mind of conscious energies penetrating every cell. Regardless of the Teacher's level, there was no question in my mind that conscious forces were at work, and I was at the heart of them.

Everything was new and exciting. Where to shower, when to eat, where I was "supposed to work", all of it nestled firmly in the realm of the unknown. Gurdjieff used to go to great lengths to create this experience for those "working on themselves" by creating "shocks" and destroying patterns. This is called "being out of patterns". It can be done as easily as changing one's habitual activities, be they emotional, instinctive or involving movement. It may be as simple as driving or walking a different way to work each day. Learning not to express negativity is positive training for the emotions. Quantum physics is validating this simple truth: fixed behavior and thought become obstacles to accurate perception and to expanding the mind. However, the point is not to continue doing everything differently. As one awakens, it’s also important to have habitual patterns in place when higher energies are channeled through us. We are transmitters and receivers, like cosmic antennae. It would be unconscious behavior to awaken and then force yourself into some preconceived idea about what it's supposed to be like. We are all at various stages in the awakening process.

The truth is so miraculous and astonishing that it will blow you away. We can only take so much at a time. Patterns dissolve as higher frequencies are tuned into. During those moments, which can be extremely intense, the energy must go somewhere. If it is a Kundalini Experience, which many have spontaneously, it's vital to let the energy from the base chakra UP and OUT through the top of the head. Attempting to contain it can cause damage, insanity or death. In the past, only those who had studied a long while with a teacher and who meditated many hours a day could "get it", and even then it was not guaranteed. Today, higher frequencies are beaming upon us continually and as we approach the shift in consciousness, whenever that may be, it's vital to strive towards balance, integrity and love. The heart is the center, or key to all possibilities. Open the door to your heart and you will discover everything you've ever dreamed of - and more.   On Kundalini:

At daylight, the lodge took on a whole new appearance. The bottom floor was simply furnished. A spiral staircase wound upwards opposite the entrance, leading to a private room dubbed "The Meissen Room". This was where the Teacher "held court" nightly, dispensing his brand of the teaching, which was a mix of prophecy, alchemy and self-aggrandizement. Twelve places were laid, including his own, no accident indeed. A feeling of opulence was enhanced with elegant antique cases filled with priceless Meissen figurines, hand-picked from sojourns around the world.

Original oil paintings graced rich paneled walls, balanced by a Roman urn in one corner. A scribe stood nearby, writing every word from the Teacher's mouth, to be edited and published in journals. I had dinner there many times, asked a few questions, and felt very present at these uncomfortable meals. To say one "enjoyed" dinner with the Teacher would be ridiculous. There was no such thing as enjoyment. It was more like sitting on a pin cushion for an hour without being able to remove the pins. Heaven help you if the Teacher spoke directly to you. It has to be the most awkward experience of a lifetime, as designed. An excellent chance to see "false personality" in action.

I flew up to the "ranch" as often as possible. I lived to go there, work all day and continue most of the night. Meals were beyond anything served in the finest restaurant. One of the ideas developed by Robert was that of alchemy. Refining coarse matter into finer is the essence of transformation, turning base metals like lead into gold. Alchemy is about raising consciousness, not getting rich. He got the best of both worlds! Initially, I was assigned to work outdoors, performing physical labor. The Lincoln Lodge is located at the top of a gently sloping hill. Half way down there is a discreet spot created for older students who own matching silver Airstream trailers.

Further down, a barn housed machinery, and at the base of the hill a small residence stands alone where Robert lived when not traveling. My favorite place drew me in like a magnet: the kitchen. I love cooking. Everything is done with attention and intention. Being present is key. Many wonderful conversations occurred over chopping vegetables attempting to "remember ourselves". Wisdom and love expressed itself in that room, a greater teaching place than weekly meetings held in Berkeley. Various exercises were imposed by the Teacher for all, in addition to private "tasks". All were required to follow the "word exercise" which entailed not saying "I". Anyone who said "I" was reminded by a silent hand gesture, sometimes accompanied with a "photograph" of sleep by saying, "You used the word I". As "self-remembering" was the purpose of these exercises, students would "photograph" each other when the task was forgotten. Most referred to themselves as "it", which became as automatic as saying "I". This was embarrassing and humorous when ordering food at restaurants. Rather than disobeying the word exercise, students would order by saying, "It would like a cup of coffee". If you could see the strange looks some of the waitresses gave us! Older gals knew "the kooks from up North", and shook their heads while rolling eye-balls the moment we walked through the door.

Life at "the Ranch" was a constant wonderland. One might go from pulling weeds to peeling carrots, to dressing in suit and tie to dine in the most magnificent room in California, the "Meissen Room". Of course, that was over 27 years ago, and I suspect these descriptions are long outdated. Robert was truly "King" of this Empire, and everyone emulated his "self-effacing, humble walk". Tall, broad shouldered, he carried himself as if he was but a lowly servant, slightly hunched down with a peasant's shuffle. Of course, he wore silk suits and magnificent rings, not unlike Liberace, but a tad more elegant and "discreet" about his obvious penchant for the Divine Feminine. His Queen was safely tucked away inside, for private consumption only. With student donations pouring in, and "special donations" ranging from $400.00 and up, the man raked it in. By now, he must be a billionaire several times over. Before I left, the concert hall was completed. There were several classical concerts held in opulent elegance beyond description.

I wanted to move there, as others had done, to accelerate my "evolution". A lot of bad press has been spun about Robert, but my experiences were magical. Regardless of anyone's bitter opinions about him, there's a lot of jealousy in "esoteric circles", and most people that are "into" Fourth Way ideas are spiritual snobs. Many are effete intellectuals, for whom being superior consists of making everyone else inferior. Robert never had to work at that, his presence created the feeling that one was dramatically "less than". I got permission to move there, and promptly did. At first, I slept in the Lincoln Lodge. To support myself, I worked at a local hospital in the emergency room. The head nurse was a Witch with a "B". As "ward clerk", my job was to register those seeking treatment. Two incidents created memory, both during full moons. The first was a dignified man sporting a scarf held in place with one hand. When asked why he was there, he peeled away the scarf to reveal a huge gaping slash in his throat, nothing short of a bloody hole. He'd attempted suicide, passed out after slashing his throat, and woke up in a pool of blood. Well, what's a fellow to do? The other is a bit funnier. Two boys got to arguing at the bar, not uncommon, and started shooting guns at each other. One was grazed on the arm, the other had barely escaped with his genitalia intact. One more millimeter in either direction, and he would have been castrated!

Being present, "out of patterns" and self-observation were part of daily life 24 hours a day. The goal was to permanently attain higher levels of consciousness, complete our own evolution, and escape death. The "system" taught that man is capable of 7 levels of consciousness, but is born using only three. The first three apply to three dimensions of space and time, exemplified by the five senses. This is all considered a "sleeping state" in relation to being an awakened or enlightened being. The Fourth State is acquired through one's own efforts, by "working on oneself'. One creates an "observing I", then a Steward, and last a Master. The levels increase with dimension. In our ordinary state we have accidental moments of higher consciousness, or "4th state" experiences when brought near death or sufficiently shocked. As one cannot rely on shocks or death to achieve higher awareness, conditions for awakening are created by conscious schools. It is one's own responsibility to verify the source is connected to "C Influence" or higher Celestial energies.

The most remarkable evening occurred when the Teacher claimed he was "crystallizing" as a "man number five". He left the property and stayed in a hotel room with a few members of his "inner circle". The entire Fellowship waited breathlessly for this "transformation" to occur. Finally, we were told it had not happened "on time". Extravagant festivities were placed on hold. Finally, it was official: the Teacher had "crystallized", meaning permanent transformation. Flowers were brought in by the truckload, white trellises were installed with hanging oriental lanterns. Fine wines, hors d'oeuvres and an elaborate "dinner" was planned and executed. It was an enormous success, and we all mingled, drinking voluptuously. Late that night, trellises interwoven with roses, greenery and tulips, lit Japanese lanterns gently blowing in the breeze, created eerie and unforgettable images as their shadows played in the wind. I cleared a space in the mountains from scratch, and pitched my tent.

My best friend, Randolph Giddings, was a "sister". For 3 1/2 years I was celibate. There were no rules to my knowledge that forbade sex with other students, but there was so much happening, it just didn't occur to me. Alcohol was my best companion and Randolph was the funniest Queen I had ever met. He could be profoundly spiritual, then catty as a bitch in a nanosecond, like the Queen of Hearts from "Alice in Wonderland". I learned much from his "evolving soul". He left the Fellowship as well, and I discovered that he became a successful chef at a high class restaurant in Carmel, addicted to speed and an obsessive relationship. He died of substance abuse. Rest in peace dear friend.

After a couple of years, many wonderful friendships and special moments wrote themselves onto the landscape of my soul. The school was expanding, not only to other countries but now to many states in the Americas. Eventually, I was asked to help open a "Center" in Saint Louis, Missouri.

The purpose of these centers was to spread the word, create opportunities to "work on oneself', but I suspect the underlying reason was to make more money. Be that as it may, I would accompany 6 students who would travel there, locate a suitable "teaching house", and begin offering prospective student meetings. My friend, Marcelle Bishop, was headed to Ohio, so we decided to "caravan" together. What a fun trip! It was "eye opening" to reach the dry states, where liquor was hidden behind the bar, and only members could stash their bottles. I had to bribe the bartender to serve us, as I was feeling "dry mouthed" and needed a stiff drink or three. The teaching didn't discourage the consumption of "fine wines", and some of us took that to mean any liquor. No one needs a license to become an alcoholic. A winery was being built as part of the "civilizing influence" Robert was creating for the fall of civilization. For me, it was an opportunity to get drunk every night. Being "present" could be very stressful.

Saint Louis was no picnic. I didn't like the other students, so there were "personality clashes" from day one. The house we ended up with was beautiful. In the "better suburbs" of Kirkwood, our split-level ranch house included basement, pool table and wet bar. I spent a lot of time in the basement. My alcoholism increased exponentially. Having to work full time, hide being "gay" in the middle of Saint Louis, then come home and be part of a prospective student meeting was "trying". I was also attempting to establish a career in the restaurant business. As alcohol was sold, and I was a manager trainee, many evening hours doing inventory included a few glasses of house wine. Another of my jobs included selling death insurance door to door in the country where the rednecks lived. One town had a rustic bar where I stopped for "reinforcements". The "city slicker" had arrived. Locals, who witnessed shootings, proudly pointed to the walls riddled with gunshot. Someone asked if I ever had "ever clear". Not knowing what it was, I said "no". They looked at each other with Cheshire cat grins; the game's afoot, Watson. A shot glass appeared in front of me with a clear liquid.

I downed it. A bit rough, it hit the spot. Little did I know it was almost a hundred proof! The dudes were amply amazed when I polished off several in a row and was still sitting on my stool. Years later, I would do that in bars in the Castro District and not be so lucky. The floor became one of my better friends in the bar scene. Besides, you can talk to a floor and it understands you.

My career selling insurance was brief, and becoming a manager for a Howard Johnson's chain seemed easier. That was "magical thinking'. Assistant managers are glorified slaves. They do everything. Expected to know each person's job intimately, I was trained for two weeks or more on the grill, then as a dish-washer, as a waiter and so on. When someone called in sick, guess who would have to pull a double shift? Hell would have been more fun. At one of their "bashes", a promotion which I thought was "in the bag" went to someone else. I reeked of self pity and disillusionment - didn't they know I was the best man for the job? I drank myself into a stupor. It was Winter and the drive home was 15 miles away on a snow covered freeway that was as blitzed as I was. No one else was on the road around 2:30 a.m. What kind of self-hypnosis makes us imagine we can drive, no matter how plastered? I always thought I could drive drunk. After traversing several miles, I either "passed out" at the wheel, or thought that if I followed the car in front of me, I could "wing it", or both. The car in front of me was actually someone who had a flat tire, whose who stopped for repairs. I hit him point blank going about 50 mph dressed in a three piece suit. A resounding BANG jolted me from unconsciousness. All I remember is the sound of glass breaking and an enormous "crunch". My first reaction was to scramble out of the car before it blew up. I was able to open the driver door and stepped into the crisp night air. Horrified, I turned around to see the car bent in two, the engine completely flattened, pointing upwards, L-shaped. This was no compact car, but a rolling tank, a Pontiac LeMans. Steam rose. Terror struck. Had I killed anyone? Would I be arrested for drunk driving? What would become of me? The most astonishing aspect of this wreck was first, that I was alive, second that the other guy was not injured, and lastly that my 3 piece suit was perfectly intact, not one button undone. Being totally "limp" from booze no doubt saved my life. I walked away unscathed, but not from the "justice system". I was arrested.

An angel must have been with me then, and the days which followed, since one of the new students was a lawyer. She advised me for free, and represented me in court. I got off with a minor fine. This was not my last drunken car accident. Eventually, the center was closed, while other centers remained open with "reinforcements". Sounds like Iraq. I found a way to get back to California by driving a new car back for money. To be near the Berkeley meetings, I moved into the LaFayette House in LaFayette, California. At this point, I was a drunken mess. I made passes at all the other students, male or female, threw temper tantrums in my room, even tossed my pet parakeet, cage and all sailing in the air. She was uninjured, but the plates and glasses didn't fare as well. We had a swimming pool, but I can't remember much about it, being literally numb all the time. I do remember talking to my mother, estranged since my hasty departure from Santa Barbara. I told her it was her "fault" that I was gay. She snapped back at me, "Don't try laying that on my doorstep!" admonishing that what I did was my choice. She was right, of course; layers of denial.

Back to a job I knew, I worked as a waiter. On Christmas Eve, someone called in sick, and I was called in. A chronic codependent, I said "yes". My alcoholism dictated that I keep my job by acting normal at all costs, though inside I was in deep emotional pain, not wanting to face my own sexuality, or my unhappiness with the school. It was another dark night of the soul, and we were brain-washed into believing that those who leave an esoteric school are "dead", doomed to repeat lifetimes of descending cycles of devolution. Those exact words weren't used, but the emotional feeling was identical. I had turned into my own father, a blackout drinker. I hated myself.

Speaking of my father, it was precisely at this time that he wanted to visit me. We'd been estranged for many years, but I agreed. I remember him in my bedroom, trembling in fear, relaying his story about having to flee California. After I ran away, he became friendly with the neighbor kids, in particular two adolescent boys next door. One of them, Larry, approached him at 12 or 13 years old and told him he had a present, his hand down the front of his pants. My Dad says he asked what it was, and Larry coyly ran into the enclosed back yard, to be chased. Dad took the bait - it truly was "jail bait". Thus began a "love affair" which lasted about a year. My father, in addition to being a reclusive alcoholic, was a pedophile. He encouraged the boys and girls to bathe in the outdoor pond naked. Pictures were taken. There was also a collection of gay male pornography. I know, because when I lived there I found it under his mattress! The neighbors saw kids coming and going, him making "wine runs" and Larry's mother got suspicious. She wrestled enough information out of her boys to call the vice squad who stormed the house to discover homemade films, magazines and pictures. He was told, "You have two choices: either get out of town or go to jail. You have one week to decide". He decided to leave. His visit to me, in Northern California, was his exit, stage left It brought us back together again. He ended up in South Carolina for many years.

It was Christmas Eve and I had only one table, a demanding group of twenty. I jumped through hoops like a trained circus animal and they left me no tip. It was too much. If I could have committed suicide in that moment, I would have. Someone saw my plight and offered a mild muscle relaxant. I had one cocktail before leaving, but it must have been added to a vast repository of alcohol already stirring inside my body, for the mixture sent me into another blackout. I drove an enormous 1979 Lincoln Continental with reversed doors. I figured, from my last accident, bigger was better. I was right, of course. On my way home, I blacked out at the wheel again only this time I hit a granite lamp post, breaking it in two from the impact. I don't remember anything, yet I walked over a mile to the house in a blackout, nose squashed into my head, unaware of severe injuries. It was shock commingled with blackout. Once again, angels must have been watching over me. The police traced my wrecked abandoned car to the house. Apparently, I argued with them about going to the Emergency Room and was told, like my father, "It's either the Emergency Room or JAIL". I left instantly. We become just like our fathers, eh?

firebird accident

The hand of Providence stepped in again. A plastic surgeon was on duty Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room. My fractures required facial reconstruction and a nose job. I had a big nose most of my life, causing no end of insecurity. The required surgery was performed that night. Had it been another day that passed, everything would need to be broken. I awoke looking like King Tut covered in white bandages around my head and one eye, the other eye covered by an inverted cup. I was blind for almost a week. At least I got a nose job out of it. The surgeon was from the Philippines, so all of his "noses" looked like Mrs. Cory Acquino. I hated it at first, but I was alive to drink another day, and that was all I cared about. Life had no meaning for me. At this time, I traveled back and forth to "the ranch". One occasion, I got a ride with a tall, slender, good looking male, an architect. We stopped by his apartment before the final leg of the journey, and he made a pass at me. I wasn't really attracted, and it had been years since I'd had sex, so frankly I didn't know what to do. Besides, my own sexuality remained a mystery to all but me.

A day later, I was told "the Teacher wants to see you at the Lincoln Lodge". Somewhat excited, yet apprehensive, I sat next to him in an overstuffed chair. He told me that my architect friend had asked if it was okay to have sex with another male and had spilled his guts. Bad idea. We were both given "the task" of not ever having sex with other males. Robert said, with a sweeping gesture in the air, "Can't you see...there's so much more..." and that was that. You didn't argue with the Teacher. Period. Depressed, I felt that the school was becoming "too restrictive". Slowly, like a society that is being modified and controlled, it goes largely unnoticed - until it's too late. I felt the school was turning into, or already was, a cult. I couldn't see why being homosexual should limit my spiritual advancement.

Not only that, I was one horny male, after years of celibacy. I told Randolph that I was going to leave. He hated to see me go, but understood completely. We embraced and said goodbye. It seemed "logical" to make my escape to San Francisco, a doomed failure and raging alcoholic.

I ended up living in the Haight Ashbury with a buffed Queen who was rarely home, living the "perfect life" of a fag: the gym, polished copper pots, and two alcoholic roommates. The bars nearby became my new home. Dealing with leaving a school, believing one is basically doomed, is a dark shadow from which to emerge. Many other students either left at that time, or were asked to leave, especially if they "knew too much". My good friends, Stella and Harold, who had opened a center in Amsterdam, were asked to leave, having disobeyed the "no smoking" rule. Several years later I got in touch with Stella, and the truth came out. Robert had been blackmailing the straight male students, and their underage boys, into having sex with him. They were told point blank if they didn't comply, they'd be out of the school. This had been going on from the beginning. Robert's "inner circle" had nothing to do with level of consciousness. It had to do with who could do his bidding and keep their mouths shut. Those were the ones who ended up in "special positions" either traveling with him, sitting next to him at enormous meetings, or taking on "executive duties". One fellow was used as his "boy toy", which left indelible scars. He worked through it to eventually become a well-known artist. Those at the top seemed a bunch of arrogant scoundrels. One of the men who sat in front was a Doctor, who I bumped into at the San Francisco baths one night. He cringed and left upon seeing me. I was delighted to have left the school on my own terms, having taken what I needed. "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!", says Auntie Mame.

Stella, in the meantime, began a support group assisting those who left or were asked to leave. Many folks were suicidal. I joined the group, and more sordid details of Robert's sexual machinations were revealed, including a class action lawsuit that ended up settling "out of court".

[Continue reading at Zany Mystic. A book is also available: Tales of a Zany Mystic at]