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.

Monday, March 13, 1995

"In the name of Religion" - Last of Two Parts

Church leader's sexual trysts cause membership defections

The San Diego Union-Tribune

March 13, 1995

By Gordon Smith
Staff Writer


Five months after he had a sexual encounter with Robert Burton, the founder and leader of the Fellowship of Friends, Richard Laurel wrote an open letter to his fellow members in the group. The letter explained that Burton had asked Laurel to become a night guard at his chateaulike home at the Fellowship's headquarters, called Apollo, here in the tiny foothill community of Oregon House. Among the duties of the guards, Laurel said, was to give Burton massages.

Like most members of the Fellowship, Laurel went on to say, he considered Burton to be practically a god, and someone whom he "could fully trust in every regard."

So it surprised and shocked him, Laurel said, when during a massage, Burton pulled down his (Laurel's) pants and, without a word, performed oral sex on him.

"I felt betrayed and used by the man who I thought was my spiritual father," wrote Laurel, who prefers to be identified by the surname he used while in the Fellowship.

It bothered him even more when he found out that many other members, including his teen-age son, had been pursued for sex by Burton for years, added Laurel, who is married.

Laurel's letter led to a wave of resignations and expulsions of longtime members of the group. The resulting loss of as much as $500,000 in annual dues may have in turn sparked a financial crisis, according to some former members.

But a spokesman for Fellowship denied that it's in financial trouble.

And Abraham Goldman, Burton's attorney, insisted that the sexual encounter between Burton and Laurel was consensual.

"It was not the only time they had physical affection with each other," Goldman added. "Mr. Laurel's letter doesn't tell the full story."

It did, however, lead some longtime members to question Burton s behavior-partly because Laurel's complaint echoed charges made against Burton and the Fellowship in a lawsuit by former member Samuel Sanders in 1984.

Sanders claimed he felt betrayed when he discovered that Burton made a habit of having sex with rank-and-file members, most of them heterosexual males and many of them married.

Psychological trauma

Some members suffered lasting psychological trauma as a result of the sexual encounters, alleged the suit, which was settled out of court after a three-year legal battle.

Laurel, reached at home in Sacramento recently, said he didn't want to talk about the letter he wrote last year because he is considering legal action against Burton. But his open letter to the Fellowship prompted another similar letter from a second man, who agreed to be interviewed recently on the condition that his real name not be used. In this article he'll be called Johan Van Gaal [ed: Wim Pieters].

Van Gaal, who joined the Fellowship in 1985 at its center in Amsterdam, said he was told repeatedly how spiritually enlightened-almost saintly-Burton was.

"I was (also) told that in order to further my personal evolution as fast as possible, I had to give over my will (to Burton), so that something more real could grow within myself."

He learned that homosexuality among group members was banned, too. But he wasn't told that Burton personally ignored that rule (which ended in 1993). Or that Burton frequently had sexual relationships with male members of the group.

So he was surprised and confused when Burton seduced him shortly after he moved to the group's headquarters in 1986, Van Gaal said. He simply covered his face in shame as Burton performed oral sex on him.

"I had never had a homosexual encounter before this," said Van Gaal. "But he told me it was the wish of C-influence (the group's term for higher forces, or gods) that I have sex with him."

Van Gaal subsequently became a night guard at Burton's home, and the sexual encounters continued- sometimes as often as three times a week-until 1990, he said.

The Fellowship teaches "that you're supposed to transform suffering and negativity, utilize energy that can ignite through this friction." Van Gaal explained.

"I was of the impression that I should bear this suffering to get a spiritual transformation."

[ed. - This is Colin Lambert, not Robert Burton.]

Philosophy supports sex drive
But he gradually came to believe that the philosophy was being used to support Burton's personal desires for control and sex.

"I was needy for spiritual guidance, and I guess if you're needy, you re willing to take certain things for granted more than you would if you're not quite as gullible," said Van Gaal.

He began resisting Burton's advances after getting married in 1990, and left the Fellowship last October, he said.

Attorney Goldman said Burton had a consensual sexual relationship with Van Gaal.

"I can't say how long it lasted or how often it occurred. But there were times when Mr. (Van Gaal) initiated the meetings." Goldman said.

He pointed out that laws vary from state to state regarding whether sex between a religious leader and a disciple-or a doctor and patient, for that matter-is illegal.

"Mr. Burton has never abused his position of power or trust with a member, either involving a sexual relationship or any other aspect of his teaching," Goldman added.

A current Fellowship member who said he became one of Burton's lovers for a time while separated from his wife agreed.

"Robert's in a position of power being the founder of the Fellowship... but I don't think he misuses that position", said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

"I've refused Robert sex," he said, "If someone feels pressure to give in it's basically their imagination.

"One thing that rules most of our lives is what people think of us," he went on, "I feel I took a big step in the direction of being free from that" through having sex with Burton.

However Carl Mautz, a former lawyer for the Fellowship who helped defend the group during Sander's lawsuit, said Burton's sexual relationships with members are "an obvious abuse of power."

Like many other former members of the group, Mautz said he wasn't offended by Burton's homosexuality, but by the inherently domineering aspects of a leader having sex with his followers.

Taken advantage of

Not all members of the Fellowship are approached for sex by Burton, Mautz noted. But Johan Van Gaal "was completely taken advantage of."

In their 1993 book "The Guru Papers," authors Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad reported that cult leaders often express and consolidate control over their disciples through sex.

Ironically, people who submit to experimental sex with their spiritual leaders often see themselves as liberated spiritual adventures, they wrote.

"That many discontented and innovative people were unwittingly seduced into submission... indicates the depth of people's susceptibility to authoritarian control," they said.

Goldman insisted Burton did not seduce Laurel or Van Gaal, "Sexual relations can arise from mutual attraction," he said.

However the member who is currently Burton's lover spoke of originally turning Burton down "when he first approached me," and added, "It is always up to the person he, Burton, is propositioning to say no."

In any case as Kramer and Alstad pointed out, most [devotees who study under a specific] spiritual leader-and make that study the focus of their lives-find it difficult to deny the leader anything, even when he or she openly expresses a sexual interest.

Moreover, the ideologies of small religious groups typically discourage any questioning of the leader's actions, they said.

The Fellowship is no exception.

Members are taught that Burton is a higher being with understanding they do not have, said Mautz.

"People in the Fellowship who aren't close to Robert act around him the way your ordinary 14-year-old would act around Michael Jordan," Mautz said.

Members nervous around leader

"They're nervous. They fumble for words. It's a totally uneven playing field."

Joel Friedlander, a former spokesman and board member for the Fellowship who resigned last year, agreed.

"One of the teachings of the Fellowship is that doubts come from the false part of yourself. That's an effective control mechanism," he said.

Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, insisted that while members strive not to express negative emotions, any topic can be discussed as long as it's in "a neutral tone of voice."

And longtime member Colin Lambert said the Fellowship has a teacher-student relationship that is based on established spiritual tradition and is difficult for many Americans, schooled in democratic principles, to understand.

"We do not believe that a teacher has to explain himself to his students," Lambert said. "But you voluntarily enter this relationship, and take responsibility."

Such ideas support Burton's continued leadership and lifestyle. But as Lambert acknowledged, only those who trust the teacher stay in the group. Those who don't, leave.

Charles Randall, the Fellowship's former business manager, left last October in the wake of Laurel's letter.

After 21 years in the group, he said, he came to believe Burton was effectively manipulating the minds as well as the bodies of members through a self-serving philosophy.

"I'm kind of humiliated by the whole thing," said Randall.

"I thought it was the one true way, but as it turns out, it was just a cult."

He's among about 100 members who resigned or were expelled in the aftermath of Laurel's letter, according to Mautz.

Departures create financial bind

The changes could put financial pressure on the group, Mautz said.

"That's a huge amount of money" to lose in the form of annual dues, he explained (most members give 10 percent of their income to the group).

In fact, the Fellowship is in default on most of its 1994 property taxes, and owes more than $415,000 in '94-'95 taxes, penalties and interest. The 1,300 acres owned by the group are valued at nearly $21 million, said a spokesman for the Yuba County assessor's office.

Hill said the Fellowship will initiate a payment plan later this year to cover taxes in arrears.

"This situation is not unusual for businesses," she said. "As often occurs with young wineries in particular, cash-flow difficulties may arise as production and sales become equalized."

Others say that whatever the group's finances, Burton's predictions of a catastrophic earthquake followed by nuclear holocaust could lead to a crisis down the road.

Margaret Singer, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Berkeley who has counseled thousands of former cult members, said both doomsday predictions and mass suicides (which she called mass murders since they are orchestrated by cult leaders) will increase as the end of the millenium nears.

"All these cult 'prophets' enjoy reading significance into the change in the millenium," she said.

Friedlander said he doesn't think the Fellowship's doomsday scenario will lead that far.

"But you can't rule it out," he said. "The Fellowship certainly has the idea of gathering the faithful for the coming holocaust, of creating a self-contained community, and believing that former members are out to get them."

Randall believes the Fellowship will almost certainly endure, as it did after the lawsuit by Samuel Sanders. Burton is unlikely to destroy the vehicle that enables him to indulge his whims, Randall said.

And as doubters leave and loyalists stay. he pointed out, the group becomes more cohesive than ever.

Photo caption: "International headquarters: The Fellowship's 1,300 acres in the foothills of Yuba County include a vineyard and winery. The group also owns 130 pieces of antique Chinese hardwood furniture, some valued at $100,000.

Feuding With The Locals

Effort to keep low profile didn't work
The San Diego Union-Tribune/March, 1995 By Gordon Smith - Staff Writer

When the Fellowship of Friends chose the foothills of Yuba County for its home back in 1971, "we thought we could come up here and disappear," one of the group's leaders, Girard Haven, said not long ago.

Members not only focused on inward-looking spiritual work, but were actively encouraged not to socialize with "outsiders," according to many people formerly in the group.

As Haven noted, however, the effort to maintain a low profile didn't succeed. The Fellowship's wine making, its art collecting, its esoteric religious beliefs and its mostly middle and upper-middle-class members all stand out in Yuba County, a blue-collar agricultural area whose median per-capita income is one of the lowest in the state.

Many locals were suspicious of a group that quickly became one of the largest property owners in the area yet kept to itself, said former county Supervisor John Mistler.

Some still are. There have been numerous complaints that the relatively affluent Fellowship has received kid-glove treatment from Yuba County officials on building permits and various kinds of code enforcement.
The most vitriolic accusations come from the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly (OGA), a small group of fundamentalist, antigovernment Christians that lost a 107-acre ranch to Fellowship members in an access dispute in 1993.

Interviewed recently in a sparsely furnished office while guarded by an enormous Rottweiler named Buck, several OGA members accused the Fellowship and county officials of conspiring to cover up murders and child sexual abuse, as well as arranging for selective enforcement of building and health codes.
Far-fetched as some of these complaints sound, they helped bring about a grand jury investigation of the Yuba County Building and Planning Department last year.

That investigation blamed department director Larry Brooks for failing to control illegal building and building use, applying some regulations inconsistently and obstructing the grand jury's inquiry, among other things.

Brooks sued the grand jury for defamation and libel, and was fired by the County Board of Supervisors in October. He is considering further legal action.

Nevertheless, an inspection by the Yuba County Environmental Health Department in December discovered serious code violations at the Fellowship's "lodge," where members ate.

The violations included an unauthorized second story, open wiring and bare earth exposed through the floor, according to Carol Fitzgerald, a county environmental health specialist. The lodge was closed. [ed. - For nearly twenty years, the Fellowship knowingly ignored the law. See "Imitation Meditation Room".] Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, said the group's architects will work with county officials to resolve the issue.

President Kristina Nielsen added that the Fellowship is making a deliberate effort these days to reach out into the community that surrounds it.

"We don't have an isolationist attitude," she insisted.

The 600 members who live on or near the group's 1,300-acre property patronize local stores, and some have built houses and started businesses, she pointed out.

We've upscaled the area," Nielsen said.

The group's small restaurant is open to the public. So are its winery and its small museum of antique Chinese furniture, albeit by appointment only.

An orchestra and chorus from the group performed at a church in Sacramento last month, and its collection of antique Chinese furniture is scheduled to be displayed at the Pacific Heritage Museum in San Francisco for nine months beginning April 20. "We wish to be more attentive to relations with the community," said Nielsen.

[ed. - Other references to the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly:]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 11, 2007:
To LOL (#11-355, 424 and many others)[blogger and post numbers]

Like it or not, to many you represent the Fellowship of Friends. I have no idea if you are doing this as part of what you conceive to be third line work (advancing the aims of the school and the teacher), or if it is just a convenient place to vent off the pressures of your life (your implication). I suppose it is possible that you are officially here as part of a plan to try to disrupt the blog. But, as I said, you are seen as a representative of the FoF, as one aspect of its being, and I have to point out that you are not doing a good job as ambassador.

You burst in on the scene a couple of pages ago (in your incarnation as LOL, at least) in a flurry of activity and negativity. I read your words and see a lot of thoughts about injustice, bias, and lying. I’m sure there are aspects of those here, and yet if that was all there were, your own experience should tell you that the blog would have died long before this. When you talk about the Inner Circle of the Blog, I wonder what you mean. By it’s very nature, a blog is disorganized, even if it built around a theme. The only way to have an inner circle, or favorites, is to have an organization, or a vote. So, you must be measuring frequency of posts, in which case you certainly qualify for the “Inner Circle”; you’re welcome to that lofty space, watch out for altitude sickness!

You are pretty keen on the old fart theme, and show that you know something about the past history of the FoF. So it seems possible that you are either an old fart yourself, or joined so young that you have both the first–hand historical view but are not yet old enough to be an old fart. You are obviously in a position where you have either been given permission or feel self-important enough to give yourself permission to attend the festivities. Maybe you are Linda T. herself? She is the only one who can tell us about her inner state without (maybe) lying, and you claim to know it.

Well, we voted to include your views and others like them, and you are keeping on as one of the most frequent contributors. That says something about us, and something about you. Although of course we know you do not represent the whole Fellowship, just as some of your targets on the blog do not represent the whole blog community, one way or another you are giving us a glimpse behind the scenes. So, thank you!

To Simple Truth (#11-465)

Burton is not a private person with a private life. He is a very public person (at least in the large fish in a small pond scale of things), and invites public scrutiny, not least because he has set himself up as an example and guide. Since the FoF is the form, the vessel being built by students, and he is supposed to fill it, it matters a great deal what he fills it with. There cannot be too much light shed on every aspect of his being. That he operates mostly behind closed doors implies much about his being, and of course leads to some guesswork. That’s the simple truth.

To Unoanimo (#11-483)

Have you ever met Michelle Milligan, her paramour “Reverend” Heinz, or any of the others in the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly? I had quite a lot of contact with them (unfortunately, I was a neighbor to their property), and still see them around in Oroville. Now, there are some pain bodies to study! Michelle did copy the court documents* accurately, but I wouldn’t put much trust in the rest of her articles!

With love to you all, ‘in’ and ‘out’, Ames

[*Ames appears to be referencing these documents.]

"Bares Reposting" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 13, 2011:
Look, my friends, here is the scenario:

REB lives under his own different laws. There is no male child that REB lays eyes on that does not fall under his spell to groom and have sex with as soon as they are capable of ejaculating into REB’s mouth. Does it happen at a very early age? That is anybody’s quess. (Someone care to fess up here?) But this I can tell you: There are many parents that have precautionarily kept their male children at a distance, and out of sight of, REB.

Do you remember that the Lewis Carroll Elementary School used to be on the property of the Fellowship of Friends (Pathway to Presence – Living Presence – Church of Robert Earl Burton) directly across Hans Christian Andersen Way from the residence of REB? Hans Christian Andersen Way was the name of the main entry road to the FoF property at the time, where the residence of REB was #44 – O! so make believe a fairy tale. From REB’s location, with or without binoculars, the children could be watched.

In the early 1990′s, around when AG first arrived to live longterm in Oregon House and to become the Fellowship of Friends main lawyer, there was the T.B. underaged sex abuse lawsuit brought by Ford Greene. AG was to defend REB against this case, in a ‘no holds barred’ (no maneuvers prohibited) sort of fashion.

At about the same time, there was a lawsuit that AG was working, where some fellowship members were denied access to the property where they lived by the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly (OGA), whose property the access road passed first. The direct quote from REB on how to treat this case was: ‘Go for the jugular,’ as in jugular vein, that is, go for the kill. The case was won but not without significant strife for the Fellowship of Friends and REB. OGA became a thorn in the side of FoF for awhile. But that is a side story.

T.B. did not attend that elementary school, that I am aware of; he was too old. But several departments (octaves) of the Fellowship of Friends were the grounds to employ all sorts of ‘darlings’ of REB’s so that the young men were indentured servants (slaves) and were nearby for quick access for sex. T.B. was one of those.

The message from AG to REB after the TB case was: I cannot defend you against this sort of thing. (The case was settled out of court for a reported $5 million.) So, stop doing that – make sure the sex is with adaquate aged persons and consentual. Would this stop REB? Hell no! He must have his cake and eat it, too.

The way to prevent backlashes from sex partners is to compromise their ability to attack in the TB fashion. So, grooming male children of fellowship members from the time of birth, is a way to grow your own. Example: E.T. and C.C. (an REB personal secretary) had 3 children. They were considered the ‘Royal Family’ as REB doted upon them big time. Their first born male child had REB as godfather. Ownership had been established – except for the tattoo of ‘this property belongs to REB’ on the child’s buttocks. C.C. probably, eventually woke up to where this was leading. E.T. and C.C. split from Oregon House and went to live in Europe. They gave up a new home (which was across Rice’s Crossing Road from REB’s residence) that was virtually given to them along with a life where their needs were ever met by REB. E.T., likely, still is wide-eyed and naive about this from what I know – she still loves REB like a father, god, and teacher – still in a fairyland.

So, is it plausible that AG’s son could come under such perdition? What irony would that be? Defend REB under these circumstances and then have your own flesh and blood exposed? REB can plan and conive and wait patiently for years to get what he wants. The longer he waits, the more tantalizing the prey becomes. Meanwhile, what AG wanted for his child, did that matter? REB has the magic wand in one hand and a club in the other – just like REB describes of Influence C.

Sunday, March 12, 1995

"In the name of Religion" - First of two parts

[ed. - Material for this article and that of March 13, 1995 comes from two sources: and]

A religious group is rocked by allegations of sexual impropriety by leader Robert Burton
By Gordon Smith
Staff writer
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 12, 1995
Oregon House, Yuba County - To anyone driving the two-lane roads that wind through the foothills of one of California's poorest counties, the international headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends - one of the state's most unusual and controversial religious groups - comes as a shock.

Mile after mile of mobile homes and aging ranch houses, tucked into the forests of oak and pine some 50 miles north of Sacramento, suddenly give way to this: 1,300 acres of rolling hillsides and dazzling vineyards.

The Fellowship produces wine as part of an esoteric belief that observing refined traditions can help lead to spiritual enlightenment. Its award-winning winery has been the subject of flattering articles in Sunset and Los Angeles Times magazines.

But a growing number of former members - including some who served on the group's board of directors - say the Fellowship's practices are those of an exploitive cult.

These practices and the group's convoluted philosophy are used, they say, to support founder and leader Robert Burton's penchant for traveling worldwide, collecting expensive artwork and having frequent sex with a virtual harem of male members.

Most of the critics emphasize they are offended not by Burton's homosexuality, but by what they contend is the use of his position of power to have sex with dozens of members, most of them heterosexual men.

Wave of resignations and expulsions following a member's open letter
Charles Randall, the Fellowship's former business manager, noted that Burton is known within the group as the Teacher and is revered for having extraordinary knowledge and spirituality. Thus, many members don't anticipate having sex with him, and feel awkward resisting any sexual interest that he expresses, Randall said.

"They don't see it coming, and when it comes, they don't know what's happened," he said.

Wave of leave-taking

Randall resigned last fall, part of a wave of resignations and expulsions of longtime members in the group that occurred in the wake of an open letter written by member Richard Laurel to the rest of the Fellowship.

The letter- circulated widely among members and former members-told how Burton performed oral sex on Laurel one night after asking Laurel to give him a massage. It led to a similar open letter by another man in the group.

Burton-tall, handsome, described by many as alternately charming and intense -did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.

"It's just his policy not to make public statements," said Abraham Goldman, Burton's attorney.

Goldman said Burton had sexual relationships with both Laurel and the other member who circulated a letter last fall, but said the relationships were consensual.

"We don't think a (sexual) relationship between a leader and a member of the congregation is abusive in and of itself," he added.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, denied that the group is a cult.

"People leave all the time, so if we are 'brainwashing' people, we are certainly not very good at it," she said.

But Margaret Singer, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Berkeley who has counseled thousands of former cult members, including people from the Fellowship, said the group has all the hallmarks of a cult.

"It was started by one man, who gets followed and adored like cult leaders do," she said.

"It's just that this group has upper-class manners. And most people expect cults to be youth-oriented, rather than full of grown-ups."

Singer said cults are increasingly targeting mature adults, who tend to have better sources of income than youths.

And the groups are proliferating, she added-particularly in California.
"There are more cults today than there were during Jonestown," said Singer, referring to the infamous mass suicide of more than 900 members of the Rev. Jim Jones' People's Temple in Guyana in 1978. "People are catching on how easy it is to manipulate other people."

Randall said that's exactly what Burton does. The Teacher even promises that Fellowship members will somehow re-civilize the world after a catastrophic earthquake and nuclear holocaust.

"Most of the people I know in the Fellowship were walking around with a hole in their heart where religion should have been," Randall said.

"And that's right where they got hooked."

It starts with bookmarks tucked into selected works in metaphysical bookstores around the world. The bookmarks-diligently planted by members of the Fellowship of Friends-bear small portraits of George Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian philosopher who died in 1950, and Peter Ouspensky, a Russian journalist who became Gurdjieff's student in the early part of this century.

Next to the portraits are phone numbers for nearby Gurdjieff-Ouspensky "centers." There are about 40 of these centers around the world, including one in San Diego. Most are rented houses staffed by half a dozen or so members of the Fellowship.

People who call up are invited to a series of three introductory meetings at which center leaders present some of the arcane theories of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, along with the notion of seven fundamental "body types" that supposedly provide broad insight into human psychology.

Afterward, the curious can either join or not. Those who do join agree verbally to give 10 percent of their income to the group.

But Joel Friedlander, an author and former teacher and spokesman for the Fellowship who resigned last year, charged that the group's recruitment process is deceptive.

Friedlander's book, "Body Types," is one of those that Fellowship members target with their bookmarks. He said it has become a hobby of his to visit metaphysical bookstores and take the bookmarks out.

The bookmarks "use the aura of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to entice people to call up," Friedlander said.

"But the group has virtually nothing to do with the Gurdjieff system ... it's basically Robert Burton's ideology grafted onto a Gurdjieff base."

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, he pointed out, never talked about body types.

"There are more cults today than there were during Jonestown. People are catching on how easy it is to manipulate other people."
Margaret Singer, UC Berkeley
They likewise didn't talk about 44 angels-also called higher forces, or "C influence" - that Burton claims he communicates with personally, and who supposedly watch over the Fellowship. The angels include Jesus, Plato Goethe, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

Another deceptive thing about the introductory meetings, according to Randall, is that "they don't explain that you're going to be heavily indoctrinated with the idea that you better never leave" the group.

Only through Burton

Members are told they can have a relationship with C influence only through Burton, and that if they leave the Fellowship their spiritual progress will end and their friends who are members will never talk to them again, Randall said.
Goldman, Burton's attorney, said that when Friedlander and Randall left the Fellowship, they told Burton how much they appreciated him and how much they had gained from his teaching.

"It's not an uncommon thing, when people have been in a religious group like this and have devoted the better part of their adult lives to it, that they see things differently and say something very different (after) they leave," Goldman said.

As for Burton's ideas about C influence, public relations director Hill said the group believes higher forces are working with it, but that members have great freedom and diversity in interpreting what that means.

The group's philosophy "is not just somebody's idea about something," she insisted, but an expansion and interpretation of the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, which in turn were based on ancient spiritual traditions.

Nevertheless, Girard Haven, who recently resigned as president of the Fellowship but remains a key leader, noted: "We believe Mr. Burton is a (fully) conscious being, and has an understanding that we do not have. He's a very active force in directing and providing guidance."

That guidance includes the prediction that California will be stricken by a massive earthquake in 1998, followed by a nuclear war in 2006-yet another idea that isn't presented to prospective members until after they have committed themselves to joining the Fellowship.

"Our position as a group is that we are preparing these things, although we don't know if they will actually happen," Haven said.

"I would discourage people from setting a great deal of faith in it. And yet it is realistically a possibility, and we can see that Mr. Burton understands things that we don't understand."

In this doomsday scenario, the Fellowship will preserve the world's fine art and culture through the divine intervention of C influence. A new civilization will sprout at the group's Yuba County headquarters.

"Burton talks about it all the time," said Randall. "He's even talked about being able to get the Mona Lisa after the holocaust. What you read in the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky books becomes a doomsday theory."

Burton also predicted a worldwide economic collapse in 1984. While some members may not have set a great deal of faith in it, former member Charles Preston recalls being advised to buy 100-pound sacks of rice at the time and store them as a hedge against the coming global depression.

The collapse never took place, of course. But some members of the group found their faith shaken even further later that year, when a prominent member of the group, Samuel Sanders, filed suit against Burton and the Fellowship.

In charges remarkably similar to those leveled by Richard Laurel last fall, Sanders said that after nine years in the group, he was dismayed to discover that Burton regularly had sex with numerous male members.

In fact, Burton manipulated the beliefs and assets of the entire membership in order to satisfy his own "voracious appetite for perverted sexual pleasure and elegant lifestyle... ," the lawsuit alleged.

Former Fellowship board member Carl Mautz was one of the lawyers who helped defend the group in the long, bitter court battle that followed.

"When Sanders said that he had been brainwashed, we looked down at him and said, 'You (jerk),'" Mautz recalled not long ago.

"But he was right"

Fellowship Founder Robert Burton
'The Teacher' who predicts a holocaust

By Gordon Smith
Staff Writer

The Fellowship of Friends has been recognized by the state and federal governments as a tax-exempt, nonprofit religious corporation since 1971.
In other words, it's a church.

About the only thing required to obtain that status is to hold regular meetings and have a statement of religious purpose, said Judith Golden, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service.

"You don't apply to be a church. You're a church" if you say you are, she said.

The Fellowship, in its unorthodox way, says it is.

Founder and leader Robert Burton, 55, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from San Jose State College in 1963. He taught elementary school in Lafayette and for the Emeryville Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying the writings of various philosophers on his own.

He also attended a Quaker church in Berkeley off and on during the mid-1960s, which may have eventually inspired the name for his Fellowship of Friends.

In 1968, Burton became captivated-along with a number of other Bay Area residents-by the works of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

In the first half of this century, the two men developed a complex philosophy called the Fourth Way that revolves around the core idea that people are spiritually "asleep."

Acquiring true consciousness, they argued, requires diligent "self remembering"-a concept often likened to the Buddhist philosophy of concentrating on the present moment.

Another key is to refrain from expressing negative emotions, which waste energy and distract from spiritual pursuits, they said.

In 1970, Burton convinced a small coterie of acquaintances in Contra Costa County that he was a "man No.5"-defined by Ouspensky as a self-conscious being-possessed of higher knowledge and emotions than most people.

The group quickly attracted other believers, all of whom gave monthly fees to Burton as their teacher.

The Fellowship incorporated in 1971 and, that year, purchased property in Yuba County near the tiny community of Oregon House. By 1973 members were clearing land, planting vines and starting construction of an enormous winery there.

About 600 of the Fellowship's 1,900 members now live at or near this property, known as Apollo. Many others operate "centers"-usually a rented house staffed by half a dozen or so members-in major cities throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.

Most give 10 percent of their income, in the form of monthly fees, to the group. Members are also often asked to make additional special donations for the purchase of sculptures, paintings and other works of fine art which they believe uplift the human spirit and help in "self remembering".

The average contribution for American members is $5,000 a year, according to the group's former business manager, Charles Randall, who resigned last October.

Foreign members-who have increased steadily in number and now comprise a majority of the group-tend to earn less and thus contribute less, but even so, the FeIlowship's total annual income from monthly dues and donations is about $4 million, Randall said.

None of that money is taxable and, since the Fellowship has legal status as a religious organization, it need not be reported to the IRS, Golden said.

The group includes many college-educated professionals, from doctors and lawyers to musicians and artists. They meet once a week at Apollo to discuss ideas on which the Fellowship is founded, with particular emphasis on their practical application," said Girard Haven, who stepped down as the group's president recently, but is still a key leader.

From time to time, Burton- known by members as the Teacher - has also decreed some unusua1 rules, or "exercises," for his flock.

No swimming. No joking. No smoking.

Until 1993, homosexuality was banned, although Burton himself is a homosexual who frequently has sexual relationships with members.

Formal dinners at which everyone wears tuxedos or gowns are held regularly. Lavish parties have been thrown to celebrate Burton's gradual spiritual advancement to a "fully conscious being."

The Teacher also predicts California will be destroyed in an earthquake in 1998, followed by a worldwide nuclear holocaust in 2006. But Apollo and Fellowship members wil1 be spared, he says.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981-one of the few interviews Burton has ever granted-he was asked if he thought he was Jesus Christ.

"Thou sayest it," Burton replied - Christ's words to Pontius Pilate upon being asked if he was the king of the Jews.

About 200 members work at Apollo, doing everything from administrative work to gardening. They are paid a stipend of $300-$400 a month, with food provided by the Fellowship.

Meanwhile, Burton is paid about $250,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to Randall, and spends much of his time traveling to research art and teach at the group's centers around the world.

At various times the Fellowship has collected Meissen china and European Renaissance paintings. It owns a collection of about 130 pieces of finely crafted Chinese hardwood furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The pieces range from desks to beds, with some valued as much as $100,000.

The Fellowship also makes wine under the label of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.

Renaissance's late-harvest Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, both dessert wines, have won international awards and have been poured for the Prince of Wales, former President George Bush and other world leaders. The winery has a capacity of 40,000 cases of wine a year and currently produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

All of that makes for an unusual religious organization, to be sure. But Golden said the IRS launches an inquiry into a church "only if we have a reason to suspect it is not fulfilling a religious purpose."

For the most part, she said, "A church is a church is always a church."

Tuesday, March 7, 1995

The Fellowship of Friends creates the "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centres" website

[ed. - The Fellowship registered the domain "" and created the "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centres" website. Below is a March 31, 1997 Internet Archive capture of the page.]

What is a school?
Quotations from our Teacher's book

What is this school?
Descriptive text about this school and its tradition.

Where is this School?
Locations where an interested person can find out more.

North America

Europe & Near East

South America

Asia & Pacific

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Last updated: December 29, 1996
  • Spanish first page added; translations in progress
  • New phone numbers for Brussels, Dublin & Tel Aviv
  • Link to French translation (flag and language name after text: more to come)
  • New phone number for Denver, Colorado
  • New phone number for Budapest
  • New telephone numbers for Bogota, Paris and Tijuana

© Fellowship of Friends 1996 All Rights Reserved

[ed. - It appears the site was taken over for awhile by Fellowship members' private enterprise, as seen in this April 26, 1998 Internet Archive capture of the website. It would later revert to "church use."]

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