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.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Oregon House

By Ching Lee/Appeal-Democrat
2004-08-14 09:00:00

Wilma Steiner calls them her "babies" - the family of deer that lives in her backyard.

"They walk up on my deck to see if I'm in the kitchen, and then they mosey along," she said.

The dovish creatures are still considered wildlife, but in Steiner's neck of the woods, they are the closest neighbors she's got. And she likes it that way.

There's a reason why folks like Steiner choose Oregon House as home: They treasure their privacy and the pristine, simplistic, quiet rural lifestyle they have been preserving for many generations.

For the most part, they've been successful, having squashed a number of development projects over the years while resisting the growth and urbanization of valley communities such as Yuba City. But they were also unable to keep a controversial religious organization, the Fellowship of Friends, from moving into the area in the early 1970s.

Today, the struggle to maintain its rustic identity continues, but the pendulum may be shifting. Some residents believe growth is inevitable - and perhaps necessary. They may not want urbanization, but they sure would like some urban amenities.

"It seems like the biggest problem is nobody wants to see any changes," said James Givens, whose family first settled in Oregon House in 1942 when his father came up to build a lumber company. "You can't blame them, but you can't stop growth."

Having grown up in Oregon House, Givens would be the first to say the rural community is "a good place to raise your children." But now that he's grown older, he also sees one of the disadvantages of living 35 miles up the hill is not having proper medical facilities nearby.

"What we could use up here is a good gas station and coin-operated laundromat," said Richard Dahms, a resident since 1978.

The Dobbins-Oregon House Action Committee, made up of area residents, has long been instrumental in protecting the community's rural status quo, most notably by stopping a 50-unit mobile home park project in 1981, the type of development residents have long considered a threat to their rural lifestyle. Today, some wonder how long the community can hold back growth and still remain viable.

"I think we need to expand our community for jobs," said Tom Richards, a cattle rancher with 6,000 acres in Oregon House. "We need to do some development up here."

Richards ran for the Yuba County Board of Supervisors in 2002 with goals to bring money into the district by improving roads and developing recreational areas and scenic trails.

"But people didn't go for it," said Supervisor Hal Stocker, who ultimately won that race, adding that he got into politics in the early 1990s to oppose the controversial Spring Valley subdivision project near Browns Valley.

"It takes a different person to live in the foothills," said Dahms. "It's a peaceful life up here. You don't have trains going by and cars and sirens. It's just serene."

It's so serene, in fact, that Oregon House is the type of place city folks drive their RVs to so they can escape the trains and cars and sirens elsewhere.

They drive up to camp at Thousand Trails off Frenchtown Road, or down the hill at Collins Lake. Bullards Bar Reservoir, often rated as one of the best recreational man-made lakes in the country, is also up the hill past Oregon House and Dobbins.

Vacationing is one thing. Living where others vacation is another.

At 79, Steiner shares a long history with the Yuba County foothills. She is Oregon House's honorary vice mayor.

Born in Oroville, Steiner moved with her family to the Oregon House area when she was 7. During the Depression, her father was a contractor who installed concrete piping to irrigate the orchards. When he lost his business in the early 1930s, her family moved into a log cabin in the Yuba County foothills.

Where today there are roads, back then they were mere trails - lots of them, said Steiner. There were also lots of American Indians, she said. In fact, there are still signs of their habitat. She pointed to a spot on the ground where a rock had been chiseled into a mortar. The pestles were still cradled in the hollow. The Indians used to grind acorns here, Steiner said.

"During the '40s, the place sort of blossomed because people came here to work - in logging, lumbering and the dam," said Steiner. "There was also a lot of mining. Of course, most of those are gone now."

Oregon House got its start not so much as a house but as a log cabin.

In 1850, a man named Larry Young built a log cabin about 24 miles from Marysville, according to "The History of Yuba County" published in 1879. The actual Oregon House was a hotel, built two years after the cabin. It was located at the head of the valley and served as a stage and freight stop before becoming Oregon House, the community.

Today, the town is a mixture of retirees like Steiner and young urban refugees. According to the 2000 census, Oregon House has a thriving population of 1,512, a number disputed by many in the community who say the population is at least twice that number now.

Fellowship of Friends

For such a small, insulated community, Oregon House has had its share of the spotlight, thanks to the Fellowship of Friends, a religious group famous for its wine and secretive lifestyle.

"They brought something to talk about," said Richards, who lives next door to the Fellowship property.

As wine producers, the group pretty much dominates the agricultural industry in Oregon House and has been the town's main economic driving force.

Despite the clash of cultures between Friends and locals, for more than 30 years they have managed to live side by side in the same community, even though technically, the Fellowship is its own community - named Apollo - separate and often inaccessible to others. Locals say members don't like to socialize outside their group and are not the most "community-oriented" people.

"They just stay by themselves," said Givens. "They don't bother anybody, but they just don't mix with the community."

Although the society is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization, the Fellowship has often been referred to as a cult by former members, neighbors and cult experts alike.

When the group first took up residence in Oregon House in the early 1970s, many thought they were a hippie commune, and given the times, the assumption was reasonable; cults and communes were given plenty of lip service by the likes of Charles Manson in the 1960s and Jim Jones and the mass suicides of Jonestown in the 1970s.

Cult or not, the Fellowship has its own dirty laundry. In the early 1980s and into the 1990s, there were lawsuits from former members who accused its leader, Robert Burton, of brainwashing and sexual abuse.

Fellowship officials declined to be interviewed for this story. The Fellowship has continued to maintain a low profile in recent years.

The Fellowship follows the Fourth Way tradition of spiritual development established by early 20th-century Russian philosophers George Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. Burton was a former Bay Area elementary school teacher before founding the Fellowship in 1970.

Although it is unknown how many members are left today, at one time, the group claimed it had a 2,000-member association and 60 centers around the world.

From postcards and brochures, the winery looks like a utopia in the middle of the forest.

"When you enter, it's like a totally different world," said Tony Verma, co-owner of Oregon House Grocery and Deli, which carries a number of the Fellowship's Renaissance wines.

Surrounded by perfectly sculpted landscaping and labyrinthine rose gardens, the property seems out of place among the simple life of other Oregon House hill folks.

"We're kind of the redneck group and the Fellowship," laughed Richards.

Members live in and around the compound and own a considerable amount of land within Oregon House. The organization itself is said to own about 1,250 acres. That could be why resentment and perhaps paranoia exist among residents who feel the group is trying to take over Oregon House.

Givens remembers what it was like when the Fellowship first moved in.

"They started putting in their grapes, and later closed Ponderosa Way," he said. "That was the first time the community really got upset."

Others believe the community's relationship with the Fellowship has improved over the years. Resident Gene Scheel noted the Fellowship has made community contributions and even worked with residents to devise an emergency evacuation program for the community's fire district.

"Personally, I don't have a problem with them," said Scheel. "We both know there have been some problems in the past. I think they recognized there were some things that got out of control."

He prefers to call the group a "philosophical organization" rather than a cult.

"I don't agree with their philosophy, but we've agreed to disagree," he said. "We're made up of all different denominations up here. As long as we recognize our boundaries, there's no need to get hostile."

Richards believes relations with the Fellowship are now better because "they're so integrated into the community." In such a small town, everybody runs into everybody, he said, particularly at Oregon House's only grocery store, Oregon House Grocery and Deli on Rice's Crossing.

"We're forced to mingle there," said Richards. "That forces everyone to get along with one another, and I think that's a blessing."

[Read more at Appeal-Democrat]

Oregon House hub

Oregon House Grocery and Deli is known as the town's hub, or "downtown" Oregon House, as one store employee puts it. It is an oasis of sorts because it's the only place in town that sells gas, so the store gets plenty of foot traffic from locals and vacationers alike.

"They come in here for everything," said Verma, who also runs the adjoining video and feed stores on the property.

On a typical afternoon, customers could be seen purchasing everything from multiple pints of ice cream to a single piece of fruit.

Store clerks say the store's best seller is wine. During the lunch hour, folks could be milling around the aisles or just hanging out and eating at the deli, which has its own seating area.

What makes this store unique and different from the typical stop-and-shop convenience stores are the groceries.

Yes, there's gum and candy, refrigerated drinks and all the usual stuff from the everyday convenience market. But there's also a generous selection of imported cheeses, fine wines (including a 1987 3-liter bottle of Renaissance wine with a $300 price tag), specialty teas, organic peanut butter and foreign chocolates and cookies that one would only expect to find at gourmet grocers such as Trader Joe's.

Verma credits the buying power of Fellowship members for the store's unusual stock of specialty products. He considers them some of his best customers, and not just because he can get a special deal on their wine. Because many of them hail from Europe, he said, the store will often carry items to suit their tastes.

"That's what makes it a unique store," said Verma.

Fear of fire

While Marysville and other surrounding communities down in the valley have long been plagued by floods, foothill communities such as Oregon House have had their share of raging forest fires.

"Fire is a constant threat there," said Scheel, who has installed a complicated sprinkler system on his property after two close calls that nearly destroyed his home.

The first was the fire of 1997, considered the worst Oregon House had had in 30 years. It scorched more than 5,000 acres and destroyed more than 80 buildings, most of them homes.

That year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection rated the Yuba County foothills as high or very high hazard severity zones.

"This was really pretty country until the fire came through," said Steiner, pointing to patches of dead forest and charred remains during a drive through her community. "As you can see, it's all devastated."

One of the foothill's most devastating fires came as recently as 1999 when nearly 12,000 acres, 13 homes, 57 buildings, two commercial structures and 44 vehicles were destroyed. That blaze caused major hardships for not only community residents but Yuba County's timber industry, with companies such as The CHY Company, Siller Bros. and Soper-Wheeler Co. sustaining the biggest losses.

"It was scary, but not," said Dahms of living through the two big fires. "Our feeling is if you practice safety, you're not going to have (fires). And for years, we didn't have them. Now that we've had them, people are more aware."

Until 1977, Oregon House relied on CDF for year-round fire protection. In 1977, the Dobbins and Oregon House communities formed their own volunteer fire department, which later became the Dobbins-Oregon House Fire Protection District. Although CDF still maintained coverage of the foothills during the summer, the communities were on their own in the winter.

Cora Peterson, current member of the district's board of directors, said it was not always easy running the community's own fire district. In fact, it was a burden.

In the beginning, there was no facility to house the fire equipment and rescue vehicles. Volunteers had to keep them at their homes on a rotating basis. That meant being on call 24 hours a day, which restricted them from going anywhere or even doing round-the-house chores such as mowing the lawn for fear they wouldn't hear a call.

But thanks to volunteer labor and community donations, the district finally acquired its fire station in 1987. Constructed with lodgepole pine logs, the structure cost nearly $18,000 to build and is located at the intersection of Marysville and Texas Hill roads.

Today, the station has six bays - four to store equipment and vehicles and two to house the Dobbins-Oregon House Fire Department Auxiliary's thrift shop, which raises money to support the fire department.

"There's no such thing as idle time when you're up here," said Dahms. "There's no time to be bored."

Appeal-Democrat reporter Ching Lee can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at

Thursday, August 12, 2004

One can never be asked to give too much

[ed. - The above is a paraphrase of Robert Burton's words to a former Ranch Manager, when he asked his "teacher" whether he was too demanding of his workers. This post is slotted in the timeline when the original message was sent out. Memo author Karen Johnston is regarded by some as one of Robert Burton's chief enablers.]

"Traveler" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 5, 2007:
A search on my old email called this up. This is exactly how it was posted to members. Read it and weep.
K_r_n J_hnst_n
Date: 8.12.2004 19:45
Subject: [Students] A Dedicated Amount?
Dear Friends,
This email is to all of us, but in this case, let us separate ourselves in terms of the amount of income the Gods currently allow us to earn or that we are simply given each month to put to use at this time in our lives. For this division amoung the groups of us, there is no “life” connotation of what this means; only that for now, the Gods arranged our plays such that we have this current income.
Let us also surmise that Robert wishes us gradually to take over the building of our city (although he would continue to direct it), so that he would not have to have fund-raising events in order to “pay” for the building of Apollo, but he would be able to use the funds that he raises exactly as he wished because we had taken over the responsibility of paying for the building of our city ourselves.
For this to happen and slowly, slowly, through the auctions, it is already in the process of happening, we would need some of those with the higher levels of income at this time, to commit to themselves to spend a certain greater amount on each auction in order for us to make our goals. For example, if our total auction goal for this holiday is $188,000, how much would I as an individual need to commit? How much could I personally pay of that total amount?
If, going down in income, we each commit to that amount, even those on salary (a prize drawing ticket and one “give a gift, buy a gift”, for example), we could perhaps take over this responsibility from Robert. I am certain that we can do it if we realize we are helping him meet his task to build our city. It is even becoming very enjoyable as the beauty begins to surround us.
Can more of us come to the auctions with this in mind? I say, more of us, because many of you are already doing this.
Thank you for reading this and for thinking on what more personally each can contribute if we set our minds to it?
See you this Sunday, December 12th after the meeting for our Holiday Auction. We invite you all to come, even if you have failed to bid a hundred times. Come again, come!
Best in presence,
K_r_n J_hnst_n for the auction team
“May the glory of the two worlds stay with you” - Rumi

Monday, August 9, 2004

The Teacher Transforms Friction

[ed - Account by Asaf Braverman of  a harrowing encounter with Homeland Security.]

From the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends cult leader encounters Homeland Security
Subject: From Asaf: Our San Francisco Experience
Dear Friends,

Asaf’s computer has been stolen upon their arrival to London and with it his address book.

He asked me to send this email, regarding their experience in San Francisco Airport, to you all.

With Love,

Yoad [Rowner]
"These people are walking carelessly towards their gate. They do not suspect there is a challenge even to this moment – to be present to it."
We were making our way from the security check-point to the gate, and in this hall Robert called our attention to the dozens of passengers carelessly hurrying to their flights. We were a group of six travelers altogether; Robert, Carlos, Dorian, Mihai, Dmitry S and myself. Robert now being a senior citizen, he and I advanced to the head of the cue and pre-boarded. Our seats were almost at the back of the aircraft. The plane was scheduled to take off at 16:30, that is, in half and hour, and after working on some notes the fatigue caught up with us and we decided to rest for a while. I woke up suddenly, hearing my name being announced in the loudspeaker alongside the rest of our traveling group. We were asked to advance to the entrance of the aircraft. Dorian went first to check what the misunderstanding might be, and upon seeing that he did not return, as well as having heard our names called again, we all advanced to the front. There, we were greeted by the head stewardess, and politely asked to disembark the aircraft. We were lead to the same hallway through which we passed while boarding, but the atmosphere now swiftly changed, as we soon noticed that we were surrounded by police officers. After having been left in this peculiar position for a minute or so, the stewardess approached us and explained, ‘Our crew has discussed your group, and together we all agreed that we are unwilling to include you in our flight. Your behavior has been suspicious from the beginning, and we cannot risk flying you. We now turn you over to the police, and they will take charge of your case from this point onwards.’ ‘Miss, I understand your concern’ began Robert after stepping forward, ‘but there must be some misunderstanding. We take this flight four times a year, often using your airline. We are a religious organization based here in California, and in fact we have tickets for the Bolshoi ballet this evening in the Covent Gardens Theater.’ This last comment on Robert’s part seemed to surprise the stewardess, although to my perception she was already fixed in her decision, and events having developed to such an extreme point, it was clear that it would take a considerable effort of explanation on our part in order to clear this abrupt suspicion that had developed around us. The stewardess dismissed herself and we were now left by ourselves, surrounded by a dozen or so police officers. After five minutes had elapsed in this state of uncertainty, Robert turned towards us and said, ‘If Influence C took the time to give us this shock, we must take the time to transform it. At this point, the key is not to resent this shock.’ We gradually learned the causes of suspicion against us. First, Dorian had intentionally checked into the flight early and asked for six adjacent seats. Second, we were, indeed, a diverse group of varying nationalities and ages. Third (and this is where the hand of Influence C became more and more apparent) we unexpectedly met another student, Stepan K., who was on the same flight, although destined to continue from London to Athens. He approached us while we were on board, and this aroused the suspicion on behalf of the crew members even more. Additionally (and again, the hand of Influence C could be sensed) the upper luggage bins above our seat were broken, damaged by us (claimed the crew) while loading them with suspicious items. Finally, another two suspicious Middle-eastern looking men were detected on the plane, which naturally added to the crews paranoia. We would also learn (later) that this particular day happened to be one of a heightened terrorism alert, the flight crews nationwide having been specifically asked not to leave any stone unturned.
After perhaps fifteen minutes still standing in the hallway, we noticed that the crew was now leading all the rest of the passengers off board. Quietly we stood there, as the passengers walked by us one by one, each inquisitively looking at us and probably asking himself what exactly it was that we might have been plotting against him.
Within about half an our into this play, we were lead to a nearby large room and were seated individually (each about ten meters apart from the other). We were asked to wait patiently until the inspectors would arrive. Fortunately I was allowed to stay seated next to Robert; perhaps his being a senior aroused some kind of understanding on their part. However, I had left my notes on the plane, and did not have what to share with him as far as knowledge goes. We recalled where we had left off before all this began. Robert had posed the interesting question ‘How can one not deceive oneself?’ ‘In the second state one is deceiving oneself,’ continued Robert, answering his own earlier question ‘because one is not present. The best thing is to be present, and if that is not occurring, the second best thing is to have intellectual parts promoting presence; the most undesirable position is to be in the jacks and the queens. In the queens one does not have any option. The queens are full of doubt, not suspecting that they are the problem.’ I recalled a thought of Albert Einstein which had always been practical for me (although Einstein obviously would have been referring to something else). ‘Regarding rising from the queens to the kings’ I said ‘Einstein said that the solution is never on the same level as the problem.’ ‘Yes that is very good,’ responded Robert ‘I have heard it before, but now I understand it better. The solution is also not to be found in words, the problem is in words.’
Thus we spent three and a half hours seated in an abandoned room in the San Francisco airport, during which we were briefly investigated by the FBI, although mostly left to ourselves.
At a certain moment we recalled a story of Gurdjieff being arrested by the French police. Foreign pupils of Gurdjieff’s, especially Americans, coming over to see him after World War II would bring him gifts of money, sometimes a thousand dollars or more. By law, however, these should have been exchanged at once for francs. But Gurdjieff liked to keep the foreign bank notes. Thus, one day he was warned that the police intended to raid his flat, and he was implored to make sure that he had nothing suspicious. He replied, ‘They can never find anything in my apartment.’ The same day the police came, looked under his mattress, and found a variety of foreign currency notes. He was taken to the police station and locked up with petty criminals.
Asaf Braverman, Robert Earl Burton secretary and heir-apparent
Asaf Braverman, Burton's heir-apparent
When brought before the magistrate, Gurdjieff skillfully played the part of a poor old man who understood nothing about foreign money, and could scarcely speak French. He was, on this account, eventually discharged.
‘This is also part of having outside help–these kinds of things too’ Robert explained. ‘What I notice is that as the shock is persisting, and as the time is advancing, we have to keep reaffirming not-resenting. It is the queens that are resenting. Also, in these kind of situations I remember that now it is our turn to undergo friction. Other students each have their own turn, and at times it is the teacher’s turn. As a school, we are getting farther and farther away from the queens, and this is another opportunity to practice this. Becoming old is by no means a hedge against receiving friction, neither was I expecting it to be so.’ One of the chief police officers entered the room at 22:30 and announced that they had finished their investigation and we had proved innocent. They had searched through our luggage (both carry-on as well as check-in) and had also visited our website. The site aroused respect on their part, and the FBI officer apologized for the inconvenience caused.
‘I also read your site,’ said one of the minor officers. ‘This incident will only increase your faith in your faith,’ he said, in a fairly proud tone of voice.
‘Strange play’ remarked Robert on our way to a nearby hotel. ‘This shock was all planned even before we arrived at the airport. I marvel the Absolute scripted it for us. Compared to what he has seen, it is very little. We all stayed away from our machine’s imaginary picture of what should have happened. It is good we recently read of Gurdjieff’s arrest. He would have been in his eighties when that occurred–and I trust his shock was more difficult to handle than this one. It helped me work with this situation.’ ‘We are very lucky that it was an artificial shock rather than some kind of brutal handling which past schools have indeed experienced. During the shock I had the ‘I’ that C. Frew (who is also receiving artificially applied friction from Influence C, although in his case it is terminal) would have been grateful to undergo this if it were all that was asked of him. These are all artificial shocks–Girard’s stroke, Peter Bishop’s untimely death, and even Genevieve from one angle–Influence C have artificially applied them into their and our roles to transform. One always has to take Influence C on their own terms, and that is how they will get us to Paradise. We are very lucky Influence C take the time to help us escape; who are we that they would take the time to help us? And why we of all others?’ ‘One area you all have to watch is the group of I’s that is concerned about myself in such situations. Remember that I will be doing my work. The seven of hearts can work through these concern I’s.’ We received complementary rooms in a nearby hotel and spent the night there. Since our flight was not to leave until 16:30, we decided to have lunch in San Francisco the following day. As we arrived in Union Square, Robert remarked, ‘The machine considers yesterday as time lost. But it was not time lost because there was a lot of presence and third state to it all. The machine judges by external achievements.’ Soon, we were back in the airport undergoing exactly the same check-in procedure as in the previous day. After passing the security area, and as we were advancing towards our gate once again, I recalled Robert’s comment of how no one was suspecting there was a challenge to that moment, and pondered how curious it was that as Robert made that remark the previous day, none of us suspected that we were about to encounter a challenge that would last until 22:30! Dorian insisted that Robert and I be upgraded to upper class. Schools always make a profit, and thus our story ends happily with Robert and myself enjoying a pleasant dinner sitting across from each other. We toasted to bearing the slings and arrows of our outrageous good-fortune.
Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Burton and his secretary Asaf Braverman fly first class
Asaf Braverman and Robert Burton toast their "outrageous good fortune."