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.

Sunday, April 25, 1999

Kevin Kelly's Story

Paraplegic Fellowship of Friends member Kevin Kelly's controversial death
[ed. - This is more correctly a small portion of Kevin's story. A member of the Fellowship since July 1976, and a quadriplegic since a diving accident in his youth, Kevin followed Robert Burton's directions to leave his home in Los Altos, California and move to the "safety" of Apollo in advance of Burton's prophesied Fall of California in the Spring of 1998. Kevin died about a year after the prophecy proved false (as have all of Burton's prophecies.) His death, reportedly a result of his wheelchair overturning into a small pool of water, is considered by some to have been a suicide. The death was essentially expunged from the official Fellowship history, and (as of this writing in September 2016) Kevin's death remains unrecognized on the Fellowship's Elysian Society website. He is however recognized on the unaffiliated Greater Fellowship "In Memoriam" site. Someone noted on that site, "I had heard that Robert had made an unkind remark about 'people who commit suicide' around the time of Kevin's death, but I have also heard that (years later) Robert stated that he very much regretted that statement and feels differently about it now ... a testament to the fact that we are all still learning and growing in understanding ..."]

"Jomo Piñata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 25, 2009:

Somebody [wrote:]

For example those posts connecting suicides to FOF actions are completely lies!!!
Blaming the FOF for those suicides is malicious.

Let’s examine the evidence.

Burton publicly announces,

“Do not try to save anybody here who tries to commit suicide. They shouldn’t be here. And they will strangle you just as some drowning people drown someone who tries to save them.” (October 26, 1971).

In other words, if someone is suicidal in the Fellowship, don’t try to help them, if you do try they will drag you down and strangle you.

I can hardly think of a policy which would promote individual suicides more than this one. If they are in the school and they are suicidal, don’t help them.

Then, in 1972, “a special meeting was called and it was announced that a woman who had left the school had committed suicide. This was seen as an example of what happens when students do not value the knowledge they have been exposed to. The school had become a lifetime endeavor! (Only for those who were strong enough to succeed.)” Account of Barbara Bruno Lancaster from the book, Cults and Consequences, at

So, to recap:

1. Burton states, if they’re suicidal, don’t help them, they will drag you down and strangle you.

2. A woman (Lore Fisher-Smith) leaves the Fellowship and commits suicide.

3. Burton calls a meeting and states that this is what happens when people don’t value esoteric knowledge, i.e., when they leave the school. Don’t leave the school, it might happen to you. But if you’re suicidal, no one should help you, because you will drag them down and strangle them. If you’re suicidal, you’re on your own.

4. Kevin Kelly, a quadriplegic, has a basically stable life. Burton insists that his prophesies are going to happen and that California is going to fall into the ocean. People are required to quit their jobs and move to Oregon House. Kevin uproots his basically stable but difficult quadriplegic life. The prophesied fall of California does not happen. Kevin kills himself by drowning himself in the river. I am told he was not permitted to have a funeral.

These are two clear examples of the interconnection between Burton’s statements, fellowship policy and suicides. So, Someone, I am interested to know why you believe the suicides are not connected to Burton or the Fellowship.

Others may have more detailed information than I have about Brian Sisler and Kimo Beech. Tell the stories in detail, please.

"Someone" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2009:

In almost 40 years and thousands of students passing through the FOF, there were three suicide cases. Two of members and one of former member.

Kevin Kelly was speaking of suicide years before he killed himself. I knew him personally since 1984. He once told RB that he wanted to end his life and Robert very actively told him that it is would be the worst crime one can do and that such act will end his evolving possibilities.

Kevin told me all that personally.

Once Kevin asked a question “How can one use one’s teacher as an example?” and Robert said “My dear I use you as an example every day.”

Unlike what is written here, Kevin’s situation was not stable at all and his physical condition was driving him crazy.
The most sharp and out loud statement RB has ever made was against suicide.

The FOF is not for me anymore so I left and I will not be back. Yet, ascribing those three suicides to the FOF is an evil act by a bunch of some liars here.

"Jomo Piñata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2009:

Someone [above, wrote:],

Kevin’s situation was not stable at all

Of course it was not stable with all those artificial demands for money and to uproot his life and reestablish it in Oregon House.

In almost 40 years and thousands of students passing through the FOF, there were three suicide cases. Two of members and one of former member.

Let see. I know of four. Lore Fisher-Smith, Brian Sisler, Kevin Kelly, and (according to Bruce) Kimo Beech. But that’s just me, I’ve been out for a quarter of a century. Doubtless there are more. Every time you talk about them, you tell us your conclusion that linking the suicides to the Fellowship is an act of malicious liars. However, I don’t understand your reasoning. Best as I can tell, when you talked about Kevin Kelly, you looked at what Burton said, but ignored what he did:

1. He created an artificial crisis consisting of an impending cataclysm, and demanded that people uproot their lives in anticipation of that artificial crisis.

2. He created insane monetary demands for no reason other than to reproduce the Beverly Hills Country Club in a poor, rural, remote county of the Gold Country.

3. He created a culture of emotional cutoff in which former members were ostracized.

4. He created a culture of narcissistic selfishness in which blindness to others’ emotional needs was the norm.

5. He stigmatized asking for help if one had suicidal thoughts.

I could go on but I think you must get the point. My question for you is, why do you look at what Burton says, but not at what Burton does?

"ton" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2009:
Someone 223 [above]:

“Kevin Kelly was speaking of suicide years before he killed himself. I knew him personally since 1984. He once told RB that he wanted to end his life and Robert very actively told him that it is would be the worst crime one can do and that such act will end his evolving possibilities…. The most sharp and out loud statement RB has ever made was against suicide.”

around 1981-82 i lived with kevin and did some work for him in exchange for rent at that place he owned just off the property.

speaking of lies, telling kevin ‘very actively’ that CHOOSING to take HIS OWN life ‘would be the worst crime one can do and that such an act will end his evolving possibilities…’ this line of bullshit is yet another example of mind-control and manipulation of the sheep…. it’s the same psychological trick that’s employed in that bullshit about leaving ‘the school’ and ‘going to the moon.’

obviously it was ALWAYS kevin’s OWN CHOICE to end his life, the manipulation, the deceit, and the mindfuck employed in this case ignorines kevin’s unique circumstances and situation. kevin ‘believed’ in the ‘advice’ and ‘advisor’ and so was controled by the same. (suicide as ‘taboo’ has archetypal levels of social conditioning connected to the idea / act… this pablum / hogwash about ‘the worst crime…. ending evolving possibilities…’ is a variation on a meme, embeded [sic]in myriads of social constructs against suicide, this bullshit line by RB reinforces and is reinforced by the taboo nature of the act).

imo, and you can call me a cynic, there is another way of looking at why RB was interested in seeing kevin ‘bravely live on’ (onward christian soldier)… the ‘bottom line’ of kevin’s death implies that he stops making teaching payments and ‘donations.’ my editorial comment on the situation — rather than wisely counseling kevin on the choice to end his own suffering, in order to continue with the fleecing this hasnamus, this spider RB prolonged kevin’s pain-filled existence, god rest his soul.

"dick moron" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2009:
Here is another example of Burton’s selfish depravity.

In 1978 or 1980 myself and my wife at the time traveled through Europe with Burton, his entourage and other invited FOF members.

Included in the group was Kevin Kelly. At the time Kevin employed an assistant who was crucial to his daily functions, as Kevin was paralyzed from the neck or shoulders down. This was not an easy job.

So here is what kind, caring Bob decided would be best for Kevin. Instead of Kevin’s professional assistant coming on the trip to Europe, Kevin would pay for a cute, young blond, new student, with no training in health care, to travel with him. Not only did Burton save having to pay the costs of his object of desire, he also placed the young man in an uncomfortable and somewhat humiliating position during the trip. One can imagine the mind-games and manipulation Burton used in bargaining with this man for favors. As I recall, some other student was usually helping Kevin when Burton wanted to ply his charm on this guy.

After this trip, the young man moved into the Blake Cottage (Burton’s frat house) for a very short time before he disappeared one night, never to be seen again.

Just recalling this memory sickens me.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 10, 2012:
[ed. - Responding to "I in the sky"]

And a little more on the story of Kevin Kelly, who obeyed Burton’s instructions, and then committed suicide when that particular prediction did not come true. As you mention in your casual throwaway line, he was a paraplegic. As a nurse, I took care of him from time to time, and know how helpless he was, and how humiliating some aspects of his life were. For example, every day someone like me had to reach into his rectum with their hand to clear away the accumulated waste because the last section of his intestines were also paralyzed. Hard for the caregiver, much, much harder for him. Nevertheless, it is a testament to his character and will that, despite his many difficulties, he was able to put himself through Yuba college, and eventually find work in the Bay area that gave him dignity and some independence, especially financially. Burton in due course ordered him to give up this unique job opportunity and return to Oregon House to await the catastrophe. When the prediction predictably failed, Kevin was left adrift, all his hard-won independence and way to make a living thrown away on the whim of a psychopath, with no recourse. And of course, no apologies or remorse from Burton. Kevin decided to end his misery in the only way he could. The psychopath Burton then proceeded to tell everyone that Kevin had ‘lost the school’, ‘ and the support of the angels, was not ‘on the Way’. Decades of sacrifice and hard work, cheerfulness in the face of extreme adversity, his love for his fellows, his many acts of generosity and goodwill, all meant nothing. Nothing at all, except as an object lesson for Burton to keep his followers in line. BTW, contrast that to the way he interpreted and treated the suicide of Abraham Goldman, the Fellowship of Friends lawyer . . .

"jomopinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 11, 2012:
Kevin Kelly was a quadriplegic, not a paraplegic.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 11, 2012:
Jomopinata (#130-59 or thereabouts) [above],

thanks for the correction, you are absolutely right.

Kevin was able to move his head and one little finger on one hand, with a bit of movement from the finger next to it. That movement allowed him to control his wheelchair with a miniature joystick. Perhaps some of you remember him ‘dancing’ with partners at some of the balls; he was very good with the controls. It was an amazing accomplishment to able to find a worthwhile job that gave him dignity, income and some measure of independence . . .

"Fee fi fo fum" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 11, 2012:
47. Ames [above]

Wonderful post. Very humanizing. I fully expect I in the sky to ignore the humanity of what you were describing, regarding Kevin.

You’d once earlier described on this blog the daily ordeal that Kevin Kelly had to endure to complete his evacuation process. When I read that several years ago, I thought, that is very abstract for most people, because they will never have to require someone – as did Kevin – to help them with a bodily function that we know repulses another person to help us with. And most of us will never do what you, and his regular assistants did, which is to physically remove the stools of an adult. (Babies and diapers are another subject!) It is not something anyone would cheerfully volunteer to do, in or out of the Fellowship. Thus of us who have done that for a fellow adult, know that it involves some kind of “ultimate” in terms of acceptance of being human, and dignity.

Speaking of dignity: your mentioning Kevin’s loss of dignity, income and independence, when Robert told him to give up his job, is heartbreaking. Again, like the above paragraph, almost none of us will understand what it means to be so disabled as to find virtually every job opportunity closed to us. To have no income or money is to have few choices. Robert’s reaction to Kevin’s despair and suicide, just like his reaction to Abe’s suicide, was completely dismissive.

Saturday, April 24, 1999

Making wine in the lap of gods

[ed. - The following article was accessed through]
Renaissance wine is produced at Apollo. Where else but in California, asks a perplexed Kieran Cooke

Financial Times of London
By Kiernan Cooke
24 Apr 1999

The flat, rice-growing lands around Sacramento were far behind. The car engine strained as the road wound up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. First, Marysville and then on, in the direction of Brownsville. Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe were in the distance, farther up.

Over the dinner table back in San Francisco I had heard talk of a winery called Renaissance high in the hills. A group of people, members of some obscure community, had battled with mountain rock and scrub to build one of California's premier vineyards.

The Renaissance winery is well away from California's main vine-growing estates in the Napa Valley and areas farther north. Yet the Renaissance label has a considerable reputation; its wines have been consumed regularly at White House functions, and have won a rack-full of awards, both national and international. Intriguingly, the winery also has its own opera and ballet companies, an orchestra, a lavish collection of antiques - and a seemingly limitless supply of cash. [italics added]

I met Paul Harvey, president of Renaissance, in the small village of Oregon House. "Wine production is only one aspect of our life," he said. "The whole property here, which we call Apollo, is a laboratory for the principles we study."

Apollo is run by a group called the Fellowship of Friends, founded in Carmel, California, in 1970. The group's philosophy is not easy to understand; it involves concepts termed self-remembering and the fourth way, and is based on the teachings of two turn-of-the-century Russian philosophers, George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

"We reject the idea we are a cult," said Harvey, as we bumped along in his Jeep, past a guard post and into one of the finest vineyards I have seen.

Cypress trees lined the road winding through the neat terraces of vines. There was an olive grove. Statues surrounded an ornamental lake. A white neo-classical pavilion - the Apollo Academy - stood amid a delicately patterned rose garden. "Everything is full of the Gods," said the inscription beneath the portico.

Harvey, who spent 20 years on Wall Street before joining the Apollo project, said the fundamental belief of the fellowship was that man as he was presented to the world was not a complete being. Only by using various psychological tools and through the pressure of work and other activities was it possible to induce evolution. "Intense self-awareness, a positive outlook and a commitment to art and high culture lead to a higher consciousness," says a fellowship brochure.

I had difficulty grappling with these ideas as we drove down the rutted roads of the estate. The Apollo project covers more than 1,200 acres; work on clearing the land began soon after the fellowship bought the property in the early 1970s.

Rocks were dynamited and 175,000 holes drilled and filled with compost before vines were planted. Wine production, covering 365 acres, started in 1986. The area is hilly and encompasses several micro-climates. As a result, more than a dozen varieties are produced under the Renaissance label, ranging from big reds to sweet dessert wines.

Output is relatively small by California standards - about 40,000 cases a year. The winery had a turnover of $3m last year and is, according to Harvey, moving towards break-even point. "We have a system of tithes through which members contribute a certain percentage of their income. Apollo's development came about entirely from the Fellowship's own income stream."

The fellowship says it has 2,000 members worldwide, about 600 of whom, of various nationalities, work on the Apollo project. The community has its own school - "The Lewis Carroll" - and its own baseball team.

Over lunch and a tasting session at the winery restaurant I met Gideon Beinstock, the chief winemaker, who describes himself as a French Israeli.

"This is not an easy operation to understand or to run," said Beinstock. "We are all amateurs, without any formal training in the wine-making business. The fellowship has certain rules - like no smoking or drugs. A member is asked to leave if he or she displays what we call excessive negativity. Negativity gets in the way of evolution. You must always try to be positive. That means I cannot shout or scream or criticise people. Sometimes it's frustrating."

Eliza Tudor is in charge of the arts programme at Apollo. Her voice is straight out of an English country house drawing room.

"Apollo is dedicated to preserving the classical traditions, and that includes both wine-making and the arts," she said. Up here, in what many would consider to be the back of beyond, the Apollo opera company is putting on The Marriage of Figaro while the theatre company is staging Othello.

I asked about adverse publicity the fellowship has received. Some former members have alleged they were subjected to brainwashing: there have been allegations of sexual impropriety involving Robert Burton, the fellowship's founder, who is referred to as "The Teacher" by fellowship members.

"In the past," said Harvey, "we have been rather secretive and ignored the adverse publicity. Now I think there is a wider understanding of what we are engaged in here. People can't help being impressed when they visit us."

Full of wine and good food, we came to the last stop on the tour - the Apollo Academy, which houses one of California's most prized art and antique collections and doubles as the home of "The Teacher". Burton was away in Europe, searching for artefacts. One of the tenets of the fellowship's teaching is the need for renewal and change. The academy's contents are regularly traded.

In the 1970s, Burton built up a valuable collection of 18th century porcelain and silver plate. After a while, this was sold off and a selection of Old Masters bought with the proceeds. Subsequently, the academy built up the world's largest collection of Ming dynasty furniture. In 1994, Burton and the fellowship abruptly sold off its Chinese antiques and turned instead to French and Italian decorative art.

"Burton must be immensely wealthy," I said as we drove past the guard post and out into the other world. "He has nothing," replied Harvey. "Everything belongs to the fellowship." [italics added]

It is all a little surreal. The fellowship's teachings and the source of its undoubted wealth, are still rather a mystery. Renaissance wines are far easier to appreciate and understand.

* Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, POB 829, Apollo, Oregon House, Ca 95962. Renaissance Wines are imported into the UK by Southern Wine Brands of Huddersfield. Tel: 01484-608898, fax 01484-609495. Copyright Financial Times Limited 1999. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright F.T. Business Enterprises Limited (FTBE) Apr 24, 1999

Friday, April 23, 1999

"Fellowship of Friends" website

[ed. - This is an April 23, 1999 Internet Archive capture of the current Fellowship of Friends website. (It had been on hiatus, and the domain used by Chancellor and Chancellor.]

the fellowship of friends, a fourth way school with students in over 30 countries, focuses on the practical application of the gurdjieff - ouspensky principles

Worldwide centres
Press archive
Further reading
the fellowship of friends, a fourth way school with students in over 30 countries, focuses on the practical application of the gurdjieff - ouspensky principles


© Copyright Fellowship of Friends 1999
All rights reserved.

“Our fundamental idea shall be that man as we know him is not a completed being; that nature develops him only up to a certain point and then leaves him to develop further by his own efforts and devices, or to live and die such as he was born, or to degenerate and lose capacity for development.”
- P.D. Ouspensky

[ed. - From the above site:]

The Fellowship of Friends is committed to the spiritual evolution of its members, accomplished through a psychological system that has existed, in one form or another, for thousands of years. The center of the Fellowship is at Apollo, California; much of our work involves the social and cultural efforts needed for this community.

The Fellowship has about two thousand members. Roughly a third live near the 1,250-acre property at Apollo, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The Fellowship owns Renaissance Vineyard & Winery at Apollo which produces world-renowned wines on its 365-acre terraced mountain vineyard. The remaining two-thirds of Fellowship members live in centers around the world - from Taipei to Venice, from Moscow to Buenos Aires.

The Fellowship follows the Fourth Way tradition of spiritual development established in the 20th century by George Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. Central to this tradition is self-remembering, an active form of meditation in which students attempt to become more aware of themselves and their surroundings in each moment of their daily lives. The Fourth Way system includes an esoteric interpretation of religion associated with the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, traceable also in Greek philosophy, and probably originating in ancient Egypt and Asia. The Fourth Way is more than a philosophy or theory, however, it comprises a system of ideas that, when fully embraced, is a way of life. Ouspensky wrote that man, as he is, “is not a completed being; that nature takes him only up to a certain point and then leaves him, to develop further, by his own efforts and devices, or to live and die such as he was born...” According to the Fourth Way, individuality, consciousness, conscience, free will, and an immortal soul are attributes that a man mistakenly believes he already possesses, but must instead be acquired by special work within a group of people who share the same aim.

Real change in a man or woman can only occur under pressure - analogous to the process by which simple carbon becomes a diamond. When the demands made upon a man increase and when he can meet those demands with the disciplined psychological tools of the Fourth Way, it becomes possible for him to induce his own evolution. Apollo is a community designed to aid this process by creating such pressure. Whether in the contrast of the rough terrain, red soil and ponderosa pines that are a backdrop for our formal rose gardens, or the paradoxes inherent when members labor all day in the vineyard and then enjoy a formal dinner in evening dress, we are forced to embrace contradictions in our lives and within ourselves. The work of building Apollo, as well as our work to become more aware and unified, forces us to confront our attitudes and expectations, and hence enlarge our understanding and quicken the work of conscience. Unlike traditional religions that require belief in fixed dogmas, the Fellowship emphasizes the need for our own verification of the ideas.

Clearly, then, the Fellowship way of life is more than theory, philosophy or religion - it incorporates all of those into a practical approach to realizing the highest possibilities in man. Most would agree that it is not an easy path to tread, but Fellowship members - some of whom have been in the organization for more than 25 years - continue to find it immeasurably rewarding and life-giving.