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.

Friday, April 30, 1982

April 1982 Notes

Robert Earl Burton's Fellowship of Friends cult Berenson Study at Goethe Academy
Berenson Study at the Goethe Academy, circa 1984 (Photo: James Kline)

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
Berenson Study complete
550 trees planted around shops, Milton Pond, Lodge, Cabernet slope
February 8: Gene Lalonde [concert]

Thursday, April 1, 1982

The Price of “Friend” Ship

[ed. - Text downloaded from ICSA website September 27, 2006. The Advisor was a newspaper published by ICSA from 1979 - 1984.]
The Price of “Friend” Ship

Special to The ADVISOR
by Joan Guberman
April/May 1982

“Your money or your life,” that is the choice faced by the victim of a robber.

“Your money and your life,” that is the non-choice often faced by victims of a cult.

What follows is the brief story of a cult and one woman who joined it, at the cost of her marriage, her money and her free will.

The Fellowship

Robert Burton’s Fellowship of Friends is one of a number of groups around the world that study the ideas of the late Russian mystics George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

Burton’s group, however, practices mysticism with a twist. They believe that mystical values become clearest through the worship of beauty and materialism. The group members voluntarily contribute one tenth of their income, with a $100 monthly minimum, to enable their leader, Burton, to surround himself with valuable works of art.

Renaissance, the Fellowship’s California retreat, where Burton presides, is decorated with an estimated $1 million in works of art. Fellowship members come to stay and work there for varying lengths of time.

An ex-member and professional psychologist, James Trattner, described Burton and Renaissance in the San Francisco Chronicle (April 20, 1981). He said Burton is a “guy who lives like an absolute king. He’s buying art objects that cost in the millions. And then, right there at Renaissance, all around him, you have the worker beasts, going from morning ‘til night, planting grapes, doing stonemasonry, and carpentry. They are flat broke, they have no money of their own. And in that sense they are prisoners.”

“The parallel with Jonestown,” Trattner insists, “is incredible.”

A major difference between the two cults, however, is that while Jonestown attracted primarily the poor and unskilled, the Fellowship attracts people who have skills and money to contribute. One former Fellowship recruit, a 26-year-old white-collar worker who gave almost one year of her life to the cult, has volunteered to tell her story to The ADVISOR. To protect her privacy, we shall call her Anna.

Anna learned about Fellowship meetings on a bookmark which she found in a philosophy book for sale in a local store. Newly married, Anna had always been looking for some higher philosophical truth. She was feeling particularly vulnerable because of recent financial difficulties. Also, she was reluctant to face the responsibilities of her marriage.

Intrigued by the bookmark, Anna decided to go to the Fellowship center. She attended a set of three introductory Fellowship meetings and was impressed by the attitude of the members. Although she felt bombarded by information and unable to ask questions, the friendliness of the group and the promise of greater spiritual insight drew her back.

Gradually, she began to spend more and more time with the Fellowship members. She began following the Friend’s rules, including the omission of certain words from her vocabulary, eating ‘European style’ and dressing more formally. Her new friends told Anna to regard associates from her earlier life as now beneath her.

Anna’s behavior seemed to change. Her parents said she was becoming “Robot-like.” She lost her sense of humor.

When her husband became critical of the changes in her behavior, the Friends encouraged Anna to leave him. Anna began lying to her husband about her activities. The marriage began to disintegrate.

In desperation, Anna’s husband hired a deprogrammer. The deprogramming, at least initially, failed. Anna lied to the deprogrammer and maintained her ties to the Fellowship.

Suddenly, after a month, Anna, in her own words, “snapped out” and “became mentally alive again.” She became convinced that she had been brainwashed and began to try to put her life back together.

However, leaving the cult did not mean that things returned to the way they were before she joined. Anna explained, “While I was looking for happiness in the cult, I lost my real happiness, my husband.” Uncertain about what to believe after almost one year of deception, her husband had left their home.

After several months of anguish, Anna is now seeing her husband again, hoping to put their marriage back together. She is also reestablishing ties with her parents and old friends. With the help of the local Citizens Freedom Foundation, a support group of ex-cult members and their families, Anna is slowly rebuilding her life.