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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers

When a member of a cult or a cult brand makes a commitment to the cult or cult brand, they're investing a huge amount. They're often giving up, often for brand cults, their family, their time, their money, their reputation. It's a massive, massive cost -- not just money cost -- to join the cult. That feeling or that investment must be felt to be reciprocated by the people who run the cult. There must be feeling amongst the membership that the people who run the cult feel as committed to them as they are committed to the cult. If there's any inequality in that sense of responsibility, the cult will break apart, often violently. For example, in one cult I investigated called the Fellowship of Friends in California, a classic cult based on the teachings of [Peter] Ouspensky, people gave up their whole lives and lived in a commune to follow [Robert Earl] Burton. Burton was then accused of molesting some of his followers and embezzling money. The moment that was discovered, that lack of trust was revealed, that lack of commitment was exposed, the cult began to disintegrate. 

Similarly, The Body Shop crashed from its dizzying heights in the mid-'80s when there was one small article that then became widely distributed that essentially [said] The Body Shop was a lie; that its ingredients weren't all natural; that they weren't harvested from the mountains of the Himalayas; that, in fact, Anita Roddick had ripped off the whole idea from a friend of hers. In other words, for all the high-mindedness and all of the very laudable meaning system of honesty that Anita Roddick had created, she basically let down her membership. She lied to them. And the membership drifted away, at least the committed members.

- Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers (excerpt from interview linked below)

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 29, 2008:

Here is a great PBS (Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S.A.) interview in 2004 with a person who has been in advertising for his entire adult career. He talks about the similarities between brands and cults, the good and the bad, and how marketers use this knowledge of human psychology. There is a brief mention of the Fellowship of Friends and Robert Earl Burton as an example.

Interview with Douglas Atkin