Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Thursday, December 31, 1998

Taking with the Left Hand

William Patrick Patterson's Taking With the Left Hand, on Robert Earl Burton and the Fellowship of Friends cult in Oregon House, CA
Taking with the Left Hand: Enneagram Craze, The Fellowship of Friends, & the Mouravieff Phenomenon
by William Patrick Patterson

The first book to examine the spiritual theft and appropriation that marks our time. A detailed and well-documented study, it illustrates how the enneagram movement commercialized an ancient alchemical symbol, how Robert Burton, founder of The Fellowship of Friends, arrogated The Fourth Way teaching, and how Boris Mouravieff plagiarized and tried to appropriate it.

Excerpt:
Though Burton claimed to be a Fourth Way teacher, he himself never had an authentic Fourth Way teacher. The level of his understanding of the teaching was based on what he could pick up from Fourth Way books and from his one-time teacher, the actor-director Alexander Francis Horn. Horn, himself a faux-Gurdjieffian without any real connection to the Fourth Way, had based his own understanding on books and on that of his first wife Carol, a student of John Bennett's ten month experimental program - an eclectic melding of the Fourth Way with other teachings and practices. Horn first taught in New York and later in San Francisco where he created the Theater of All Possibilities, a theater which purported to double as a Fourth Way school. Horn financially exploited his students, manipulated their lives, often physically brutalizing them - all in the name of the teaching. The thirty-one-year-old Burton, dismissed by Horn for not "staying on task" apparently picked up enough from Horn to start his own teaching.

Alexander Francis Horn: Not much is known about Horn, but, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, his dinner theater "Fourth Way School" operation, known as the Theater of all Possibilities (the name taken from the Herman Hesse novel, Steppenwolf), had an income of $40,000 per month or some $500,000 a year. Of this, $20,000 was from student dues and $20,000 from the sale of theater tickets. Students, required to sell tickets to the weekly productions, were harangued and physically beaten if ticket quotas were not met. At Horn's instigation, all-night drinking marathons culminating in fist fights were common occurrences, all in the name of the teaching. Punishment, in many forms was a feature of Horn's teaching. A local drama critic wrote, after sitting through three hours and leaving at the end of Act II of Horn's three-act play, The Fantastic Arising of Padraic Clancy Muldoon - "In more than ten years of reporting on the local theater scene, I remember no more punishing experience." Burton had long before been dismissed from the group, but this gives a portrait of Horn's psychology and his approach.

Burton never had a genuine Fourth Way teacher. Burton's only teacher was Alex Horn who was never in the Gurdjieff Work. A martial arts expert and actor-director with a dramatic flair, Horn learned of the Fourth Way teaching through his second wife who spent a number of months in J. G. Bennett's International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherbourne, England.  For information on Alex Horn see "Theater Group: Cult or Stage?" by Jack Brooks, San Francisco Progress, December 22, 1978.  Horn is criticized for financially exploiting his students and subjecting them to psychological abuse, even beatings. See also "Real-Life Drama in a S.F. Theater Group," by Michael Taylor and Bernard Weiner, San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1978. The story focuses on allegations of "beatings, child neglect and a student fee structure that yielded high revenues."

"Kid Shelleen" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 4, 2007:
Laura [blogger],

Taking with the Left Hand is by William Patrick Patterson, who was a student of John Pentland’s and supposedly was annointed to lead the Gurdjieff Foundation when Pentland died. The observations he makes about the fof in his book are mild compared to the real deal. His point of view is coming from the “Burton has no legitimate connection to this work and is misleading his students” angle.

Here’s a story:

A couple of years ago, I was in a local book store and saw a poster for one of Patterson’s talks near my home. Just out of curiousity, I went. He talked the fouth way mumbo-jumbo for awhile, had us do some “sensing” exercises, and opened the floor for questions. For fun, I asked a question about self remembering and creating memory. He asked me about my understanding of self remembering and in my answer I used the phrase divided attention. He told me this was a wrong understanding of the idea and then, seemingly out of nowhere, launched into a diatribe about false teachings and corruption of the ideas. On and on it went. At the end, he turns his best Gurdjy steely gaze on me and says, “And this is the story of Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends, is it not,” in an incredibly self-satisfied tone. I almost laughed out loud. Judging from his manner, I believe that he thought that I thought, “Wow, how did this guy read my mind?” I came away from the experience thinking, “Same s#@t, different bag.”

Oh, and his students were a hoot, too. They seemed about as uptight as any group of folks I’ve run into. The women who introduced him (one of the inner circle, probably), spoke of him as if he were the second coming. After the event. I asked the two people manning the concession stand how many times a week the group met and how many students were in the local area. They stopped, stared at the ground for a moment, looked at each other with a look I’m sure we are all familiar with, and told me they couldn’t answer my question. So it goes.

[ed. - See also, "A Letter About Robert Burton" posted on the Gurdjieff Club site.]

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