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, February 11, 1983

"On the Fourth Way"

Image from John Raithel's website.

[ed. - John Raithel was a member of The Fellowship of Friends from 1976 until 1983. Below, in his "Autobiographical note" thirty years after departing, Raithel reflects upon his reasons for leaving the Fellowship and describes the atmosphere in the organization at the time. I've posted this in the timeline at his date of departure.]
In Search of the Miraculous

For some people immediately, for some eventually, a need comes to talk about these ideas with other people, test one's practice and, ultimately, find people who know more. We realize that if we are going to make real progress, we have to go to school.

I began in this line by meeting some people which eventually led to my involvement in a group begun by a student of Gurdjieff's, Willem Nyland. The work there was interesting and, I think, profitable, but I knew it wasn't exactly what I needed, and I eventually discontinued my involvement with that group.

Some time later, at another bookstore in Milwaukee, I came across a beautiful little poster showing a pair of cherubim and reading "Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Centers Accepting Students" and listing telephone numbers. The closest was Chicago, and I had no plans to go there—I imagined boring lectures for some reason—but when I came across a similar advertisement in the university newspaper with a local telephone number, I decided to give it a call.

To make a long story short, I ended up connecting with an actual school, called at that time the Fellowship of Friends, and working in that organization for several years, first in Chicago and Milwaukee, and later in California. I won't go into my experiences there, nor discuss the nature of the teaching. The ideas taught there are probably the most influential of modern teachings on the fourth way and you can look into it or not as you see fit.

Eventually, I decided to leave the Fellowship, an organization I had felt increasingly alienated from since moving to California. Nonetheless, it was a hard decision to leave. Partly because the organization itself stressed that such an act bordered on the disastrous [emphasis added]. Partly because of all I had learned there, and the friends I had made.

I left for various reasons. First, I was no longer participating, and continued dues-paying seemed senseless. Second, I felt a need to be less secretive about my life, which was difficult to do when one's life-style was so determined by the organization, even if only in the funneling of significant income to it, and I felt unable to integrate these two sides of my life. I also felt a certain dissatisfaction with the school, mainly in the fact that its third line and my needs were increasingly diverging. While I had no illusions about finding a school with a third line more in harmony with my first line, I felt it possible to strike out on my own, or at any rate felt I really had no choice but to pursue those interests that had originally merged my path with the school but which now diverged.

So what was the difficulty? It seems rather straightforward, and normally would be—however difficult to clearly state one's own interests, once done, one follows them. The difficulty comes in with the teaching itself—how it makes clear that "false personality protects itself", and how various parts within ourselves may work against the interests of other parts. With great subtlety. And I had learned that this was so.

But something was telling me to go. And really the difficulty proved to be still another gain, in that it forced me to evaluate, to discriminate, in a way I had hardly ever done before. My decision became definite if non-verbalizable, and I set off on my own.

I left with, or at the approximate same time as, some of my friends, and it may well be this helped me leave. In general, there was a lot of agonizing and departures, many angry, at this time, as the teacher's sexual preferences became more widely known. If that affected me at all, it was only in the sense that I did not think it should have been hidden before, but I remained largely ambivalent about it. Especially as it was impossible to get any real information—those who were angry seemed to be very anti-homosexual, and any comments about particular behaviors were so colored with the vehemence of those emotions that I began to avoid those people as well.

So, for a variety of reasons, I left. I saw that my own path lay in a similar, but not the same, direction, and I felt it was time to grow in ways that I could not while I remained where I was. I felt it was again time to try to work on my own.