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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Animam Recro blog moves to WordPress

Fellowship of Friends, a cult for intellectuals blog banner
Background banner from Animam Recro WordPress blog

[ed. - Ten weeks after its founding, the Animam Recro blog was moved from Google Blogger to WordPress. The Blogger posts were carried over to the WordPress blog, however the article "The Fellowship of Friends - a cult for intellectuals" contains numerous changes. Sheik's statement, "
My visit to the Fellowship of Friends (written a year ago and not changed since)" was added at a much later date, and is somewhat misleading. The updated version follows. The original version can be found here.]
My visit to the Fellowship of Friends (written a year ago and not changed since)
Fellowship of Friends - a cult for intellectuals
I have had a very interesting experience today, I visited an informal presentation of the Fellowship of Friends to listen to their take on the Fourth Way teachings – teachings of Gurdjieff and his disciple Ouspensky. I am full of mixed feelings, I have just finished doing some rather extensive research on the Fellowship and the results were not happy, thus meeting some of my fears and intensifying my distrust of this cult.

I will structure this entry in the following manner: section 1) will deal with my visit to the Fellowship as it happened, with no added judgements; section 2) will try to put things into context using my additional research; section 3) will include my personal opinions on the visit, on the Fellowship etc.
1) The Fellowship headquarters in London are suited in a rather nice part of northern London, in an area that is much more beautiful and green than most, one that offers a rather enchanting landscape view of a small part of London which is otherwise hidden from sight.

The day of my visit to the Fellowship was a nice sunny day and many times was I forced to stop and take in the magnificent view. When I was nearing the house where the presentation was supposed to take place, I was overtaken by an old red car, most of it brightly painted over with psychedelic imagery, esoteric symbolism and pictures of tribal people drumming and dancing. I knew I was going in the right direction. And as I arrived at the end of my journey, there stood the inhabitants of the car – a large bald man with a green sweather and 3 massive crystal necklaces, a lady with hair the colours of the rainbow, and another lady who was slightly less outgoing and whose appearance therefore slipped my mind. I wrongly took them for the presenters at first, for they were just humble visitors, same as me.

I knocked on the door of a fairly large suburban house and was let in by a man of Eastern looks – a mixture of Russian and Arab features. He was dressed in a very expensive pastel suit, his looks could not have been any more perfect. He was the doorman – so you can imagine what the rest of the troupe who were to entertain us looked like. I went through to the living room and into the meeting chamber. There were smartly dressed people everywhere – most of them in their late 30s or 40s, all of them with easy manners, slight charm but also arrogance. I was seated on a chair and had a second to properly take in my surroundings. The house was beautiful – very tasteful, beautiful paintings, statues and other art, all in perfect position – everything looked very stylish and upper-class.

There were 3 men – or rather one 30+ years old man and two young men in their twenties, both of them with great expectations and slight naivity [sic] easily readable on their faces. I was to find out that the young men were brothers from Poland who came to find out more about the esoteric knowledge that this group had to offer. The older man was a new member of the Fellowship, his acting skills were not yet as highly developed as his colleagues’ therefore he came across as a rather down-to-earth kind of man. We briefly talked and I was happy to see some common interests between us, yet slightly disappointed by the two young men (who seemed intelligent but far too naive and unguarded not to be easily manipulated). We were later joined by a beautiful young woman either from Italy or Spain, also smartly dressed, who kept our company for a minute or two and fueled many sexual fantasies and desires for the two boys just by her presence. I was, of course, untouched. As long as falling in love on the first sight does not count.

Then came time for the presentation itself. We were seated by the man who was to chair the event – he moved us several times until he was certain that the ‘energy in the room was properly distributed’. This was a pretty funny event – adults were told to sit at other places, move their chairs, swap places and such – all of this I believe was meant to put us at ease. Then came the time for introductions.

The presenters were numerous and picked so that as many different types were represented – the main presenter was an English man, aristocrat appearance and an old-school beige suit, he had piercing eyes and a deep enchanting voice, he was the most charismatic manipulator I have ever met. His entourage consisted of an intellectual American (not an oxymoron), scruffy yet perfectly dressed Scottsman [sic], the beautiful south-western European woman, 2 pretty older women (one English, one foreign) and about 3 other British men. All of them perfectly dressed, if in a rather eighteenth century kind of way.

The visitors were as follows: me, the 3 inhabitants of the psychedelic car, an unhealthy fat English lady interested in lucid dreaming, the two Poles, an uneasy scared Brit and possibly one or two others.

There were also some other Fellowship members who were not presenting and two Russians/Arabs in incredibly expensive summer suits who looked like bodyguards. The member:non-member ratio was roughly 2:1.

The presentation started and the basic ideas were put forward:

there are 4 levels of consciousness going from the lowest to the highest: sleep, being awake (still asleep), awareness of oneself, and the final 4th state. The first state is experienced while dreaming, the second state is experienced while we are awake, yet it is like a dream in that we behave like robots – there is no self, no will and we react to outside influences in pre-programmed ways. These first two states are the only states experiencable [sic] without some heavy work on one-self. The third state usually happens once in one’s life and can be accessed again through techniques taught by the school. Through being in the third state continuosly [sic] one can access the fourth state and awaken. The only truly awakened is Robert Burton, the founder of the Fellowship;

you can not achieve awakening on your own – you need a teacher who is farther down the road than yourself;

awakening is the only way to keep on living after death – the only way to an after-life;

psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are useless and wrong – they are a false science – the only way to cure oneself is through awakening oneself.

There were more ideas put through but I forgot what they consisted of. Something about turning negative feelings and emotions into positive energy (and self-awareness) and similar. The main speaker also made us do a short simple exercise on attention – the idea was that through being attentive (through ‘being in the room’) one can experience oneself experiencing his surroundings – what he sees, hears,… Through this split-awareness one can train oneself to fully experience everything and by prolonging this state one can enter the 3rd state of consciousness. – Readers who are aware of the concept of mindfulness or the teachings of Gurdjieff will understand.

Overall, a very interesting presentation – some things made sense, others were slightly absurd(such as that angels exist and talk with certain special individuals). I don’t know how much of it was taken from Gurdjieff or Ouspensky since I never read them. I suppose that much was added by Burton – probably a fair amount.

Then came time for questions which were answered in such a way as to create more interest in the subject, a genuine wish to find out more about the teachings. Manipulator galore. The idea that these teachings (and this school) were the only way to salvation were very quietly and with great skill fed to the listeners – mainly the idea that only the awakened will be given after-life. I asked why this school was more relevant than the other esoteric schools and before I even finished the last syllable I was answered that this school wasn’t more relevant – the only thing that was relevant was that at that moment I was in the Fourth Way school. All questions were treated as if they were trivial and did not deserve any time from the presenters.

Then came time for snacks, tea, coffee and informal conversation. I tried to talk to the guy who chaired the meeting but he quickly threw me in the direction of other members – he wasn’t wishing to talk to any non-members any more. So I found the American presenter and started a conversation with him, this is what I found:

- my personal mystical experiences were unknown to him, he did not understand them when I tried to explain them to him; that in itself is strange since most people who dabble in this area usually know what I am talking about;

- psychedelic drugs are not allowed in the Fellowship, they are viewed as a means to attaining higher states of consciousness in the short-term but they have negative effect in the long-term;

- there are supposedly 2 people in Britain who attained a permanent 3rd state of consciousness (he called it ‘crystallization’ I think), they were not present at the presentation;

- he said that he joined the Fellowship when he was 22 and that it’s a good time to start studying at a school and that the Fellowship changed his life. To that I replied that I have already had my life-changing experience and that I don’t think that my road is the same as that of the Fellowship, and that I did not agree with the Fellowship policy to take 10% of one’s annual revenue as membership payment each year since attainement [sic] of higher states of consciousness should be taught for free. To that he replied that I am not the only one to think that but that there were reasons for that fee (to show people’s willingness to suffer in order to prosper spiritually, and to use the fees to fund the school) and that if I choose not to join I should just keep on following the coincidences that have been happenin to me. Sound advice.

So I left without saying my goodbyes. It was a strange experience, god knows if it was positive or negative.

2) You might have gathered on your own that the Fellowship is a bit of a cult. Just how bad it is can be gathered from here:

[ed.- links updated]

The leader is quite definitely insane, a paedophile, brainwasher and manipulator. And he’s good. He likes people to dress up nice and smart, he doesn’t like people to joke, he hates smoking and, just for good measure, he dislikes pre-marital sex and homosexuality. That’s coming from a man who has had several lawsuits filed against him for forced homosexual acts. He also believes that he talks with 44 angels – including Jesus, Franklin and Goethe. Rock on Burton!!! Sadly enough this madman has managed to attract around 2000 followers.

3) This is the hard part. I hate to say it but some of the people I met in the Fellowship were incredibly inteligent [sic], well-versed in esoteric studies, knowledgable [sic] and possibly quite far on the self-exploration path. They seemed to have that ‘it’ that serious students of alternate states of consciousness, the inner and outer realities, acquire after time. Doesn’t bode well with the cultist reality of the Fellowship but that’s what I was getting from them. After reading some more on these things I have to say that most of it was probably an act. The arrogance felt from the members of the Fellowship towards the listeners can be explained by the belief of these people that whoever is not a member is a worthless robot who deserves nothing from the superior members. This is a belief that is taught as a part of the teachings of the Fellowship of Friends, it always results in alienation from one’s family, friends, partner – you name it. [ed. - Burton reportedly asked that members not possess photos of their "life family" members.]

So be warned – there are better Gurdjieff organisations, other schools and other teachers. Cults should never be trifled with! I believe that an integral part of a personal journey is the (sub-conscious) search for a teacher, it would be a mistake to learn from false prophets. So don’t be attracted by easy gains, it’s better to wait for the real deal than to join a cult that offers the ‘perfect’ self-betterment practices. I have come across most of the techniques that were briefly talked about in the presentation at other places. One of the techniques that the Fellowship uses to attract new members is by putting Fellowship bookmarks into books in esoteric bookstores and libraries. Coincidence? – hardly.

So what is the lesson of the day? Always be sceptical, don’t trust or believe anything and let things happen as they wish. Your mission is to deal with it afterwards, integrate it and learn from it. Don’t let people manipulate you! And if you ever run out of money start a cult and put your esoteric knowledge to good use (as Burton did).

[ed. - The first published comment came over two months after Animam, from a person named "Barbara." Some have speculated this was former member Barbara Bruno Lancaster.]

Barbara Says:
June 24, 2006 at 11:05 pm

Just a note to let you know that this well-mannered, well-dressed, country club cult, destroyed my life. The leader, Robert Burton, has destroyed many lives. Lawsuits brought against him are always settled with a clause that the petitioner not be able to discuss the cult. If you stay alert on line, you are sometimes able to communicate with those who have become litigious prior to the settlement. Stella Wirk and her husband have amusing and horrifying information about this cult, having been two of the original six members (including Robert Burton) who started the Fellowship of Friends. There are supposedly other Gurdjieff Ouspensky groups who are not as cultish and pyramid scheming financially as the Fellowship of Friends. Best of luck with your enlightenment.

[ed. - a couple comments later came this exchange.]

Someone of over 30 years Says:
August 5, 2006 at 6:16 am

I have been part of the fellowship for over 30 years, and have heard of many things that the “teacher” may have done.

I only know, that he promotes the pursuit of awakening for me. He has never approached me for anything claimed here. Have I heard of others that do get approached – yes. Is it rampant- no.

I read these comments, that question the idea that you cannot work alone – and recoil. To anyone who has seriously tried to awaken there has to be a recognition that by your self, you fall back to old patterns – to your old patterns of sleep.

Does the Fellowship offer something that cannot be found on your own — yes!

However, it is highly likely that it will take years to realize this.

Awakening – in its real meaning – is something that you cannot put into words.

Awakening is a state that is beyond words, your body, your idea of what your existance [sic] is. Once you begin to get a taste, a glimpse of its true and real meaning, then your life gets a focus that will never be turned back – unless your preference is to sleep.

the Esoteric Sheik of Inner Confusion Says:
August 5, 2006 at 10:41 am

First things first, I am happy that you felt the need to comment on my article and on what other people had to say about the cult. The fact that you did not disclose your name, e-mail or any other information will work against you.

I am afraid that not only is awakening a very subjective experience, it is also something that is always a little bit out of reach, am I right? – it scares me to see someone who has been with the fellowship for 30 years, yet hasn’t achieved much and is still searching. If this is proof of the effectiveness of the Fellowship then I must say that I am not impressed. I know of numerous individuals outside the fourth way structure who have achieved more than you can possibly dream of in less time and without the need to join restrictive, freedom-destroying cults.

You also seem to think that the main reason for my dislike of the cult is what Robert Burton, the leader, did to some of his pupils (rape). That is quite incorrect – I have a problem with organisations that steal the freedom and money of gullible individuals with empty promises and well-planned social games. As far as I know, Fellowship members are not allowed to read other books than 4th way books, they are not allowed to listen to any other music than classical music hand-picked by the ‘master’, have to dress smart at all occassions [sic], and have to pay extra money to the 10% of their income in order to help the school. The ‘master’ can dictate whatever nonsensical rules he wants, and there is no room for discussion. This goes against everything that Gurdjieff stood for – wasn’t he for never-ending questioning and finding out for yourself? Wasn’t he against blind belief? That, my friend, is the true reason I dislike the Fellowship of Friends.

You, my friend, have been subjected to 30 years of very very precise and targetted [sic] brainwashing. Subsequently your comment follows the Fellowship line so closely that it makes me retch – is there no freedom of thought in the cult? Are you not able to offer me any of your own thoughts on the subject? If you wish to defend the Fellowship, and I will give you the chance, I would like to interview you or any other member of the Fellowship to see whether you really are as content and enlightened as you say.

[ed. - I'll offer a couple more, then leave you to investigate further, if you wish. It is apparent that English is not "X"'s first language. "X" is likely the same poster known as "X-ray" later in the blog's history.]

X Says:

November 30, 2006 at 8:14 am


I am a member of FOF for over 15 years, and my sincere advise to all seekers: RUN!!! Because if you join, you’ll subject yourself to the influence which will INEVITABLY twist your understanding and ability to think and make decisions, infuse you with fear of life outside the Fellowship, and develop protective mechanisms (or what we call buffers) to justify your new beliefs. Just like the member who posted above, you’ll learn about the lies, corruption and abuse, but you’ll prefer to “not notice”. Yes, that’s what happens. Because if you say something – you’re out!

Regardless if you were there for 30 years faithfully paying your 10% – you’ll get a boot, and no one will talk to you, all your “friends” wil turn away. Because they are told so, and they are afraid. Cold, cruel policy with no conscience or compassion. Well, I guess, slaves don’t get compassion – and members are slaves!

Essentially, the school is like a drug – a psychological one – you’ll get dependent and will not be able to quit. You’ll hallucinate too, and will see things twisted and colored the way your teacher wants them to be. Please trust me, I speak from personal (withdrawal) experience.

As for awakening, we are told in the school that it will take life-times, and endless efforts (read the member above) and as of today NOT A SINGLE PERSON in our school achieved awakening or even got close. Even all those 30-year members – none except for one devoted party-liner whom teacher announced as an enlightened being, I guess to make things look good for others.

Long-term members become so affected by this “teaching” that they cannot adapt to regular life anymore. To many the teacher became a father figure. (Often a sex-father-figure).

By the way, it’s not 4th way school. It’s just on the cover. 4th way is long gone. It’s “Robert’s teaching”, and what it really means is total obedience, trained behaviour, manners and dress code, huge monthly payments, and crazy ideas. They are not even ideas, they are some codes and his “keys” to the Bible and ancient texts, short prayers and symbols – not rational, not meaningful, not even funny. No questions allowed, no verifications, no doubts. Very religious. Does it look like 4th way to you?

People in the group often act like police – watch, listen and then – report. It is so corrupted, there is so much money squeezed out of students – just to create a very, very high lifestyle for the Teacher. Oh, he is actually Beloved Teacher.
This School will not bring you to awakening. It will enslave you.

But to be fare – in first 2 -3 years you’ll get to know some very cool people, learn some basic Ouspensky terminology and will actually be able to observe more of yourself and others. You’ll even have some fun! Probably travel to different places and meet people from other countries. You’ll experience fine dining (very expensive though), high class events in rose gardens with fountains (again -it ain’t free), learn some manners and get some class. You’ll look good in tuxedo! Women are not allowed to wear pants or jeans, so buy some nice dresses, ladies.

But fun will end, the longer you stay the deeper you sink. And just like the animal who was caged his whole life, you’ll lose sense of freedom and will start defending your cage.

Why i don’t list my name? For the fear of prosecution of course. Why I don’t leave the group? I think the time hasn’t come yet, and there are people in the group in need of support and help. I have dear friends who are stuck and I fell it’s my duty to try helping them. If I get kicked out they may not be able to communicate with me.


If you really feel “spiritual” – check out some Advaita teachers, like Sailor Bob Adamson, Tony Parsons or Adyashanti – much cooler! Don’t pay Robert, he’s already making 5 mil a year from his students (not kidding).

[ed. - "X" continues a short while later:]

"X" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 24, 2007 at 3:32 a.m.:
Many of us have joined this group because we had hopes to “know thyself”. Or – to be liberated, or – to achieve awakening. Some joined out of boredom to meet new friends, spouses, some were in need for a father figure. Some just wanted a visa to America! As time went by, some of us got visas, some got married and met friends. Lots of young insecure males (kind of like our friend Alexis) got their “daddy” feeding them and buying them clothes, and puling their pants down… Did anyone awake? Did someone got to know himself? I mean, honestly. Anyone liberated? No! No one! In almost 12,000 people that went through this school for over 30 years – no one got liberated. And if you think mister Girard got liberated – why don’t you ask him, or even better – go visit him at his house and see how (and what) he is doing … The reality is that lots of people got damaged emotionally and financially, got totally lost, entangled in themselves, broke down. Lots of people are so scared of the world that they are incapable to live their lives outside the Fellowship. Sounds really liberating, on all levels. Does it tell you something?
FOF is a great business, and the ONLY goal is – to make money. You are promised something you’ll never get, (well, not this lifetime, dear) and you asked to pay through the nose for it.
Because you don’t know any better, or just get “hooked” on high states (just like a drug addict) – you get sucked in, brainwashed, and actually don’t mind paying. You start liking your cage after 10plus years! You defend it, and attack anyone who comes near.
Whatever the teacher does – he charges a lot for it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, reception, meeing [sic], picture taken with him – each of this will cost you from a 100 to 1000. The guy is simply raking it in. It’s all about the money.
Do you know for example, what is the main “task” for center directors? Help you to wake up? Assist you on your path? Not really. It is – To attract more members, recruit, catch, trap. Get the money! Get them to join! The “questionnare [sic] for directors” says: (I actually copy the original here)
Did you have activities to advertise the school? Please indicate yes or no in the list below. 
Ads in Newspapers
Open meeting
Web site
Word of mouth
Please use the list below to indicate how many prospective students found us
Through Ads in Newspapers
Through Bookmarking
Through Brochures
Through Flyers
Through Newsletters
Through Open meeting
Through Others
Through Posters
Through Web site
Through Word of mouth
How many prospective students did you have participating in a first meeting?
How many students joined after the first meeting?
Did someone bring friends to the second meeting, if yes, how many?
How many prospective students did you have participating in a second meeting?
How many students joined after the second meeting?
You see for yourself – NOT A WORD ABOUT WAKING UP. NOT A WORD ABOUT LIBERATION. I wish I can send you a link so you can read it yourself – but it’s password protected site.
What does it tell you? Isn’t it just an agressive recruiting campaign? Why there is such a burning desire to attract members, may be to “wake people up”?
Well, because it brings 5 million a year in teaching payments, plus another 4-5 mil in additional charges for dinners, photos and such. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. Again, It’s all about the money.
And that would be almost fine, if the teacher gives you back. If he actually teaches you to wake up. Or -cares about your progress. Then – who care what it costs! But the truth us – HE DOESN’T CARE! AND HE HAS NO CLUE!!! He really has no idea how to be present, he cannot communicate a thing to his students. The bullshit he is saying lately is so absurd – even the “followers” are starting to loose faith. This is from “Anatomy of the Sequence”: However, Christ is behind Judas, and the nine of hearts is behind Christ, so Judas’ failure is ultimately the failure of the nine of hearts. – Huh?
Or read this: “His name was Gilgamesh from the very day of his birth”—from short Be—the birth of the steward. “He was two-thirds god, one-third man.” “One-third man” refers to short Be; “two-thirds god” refers to middle Be and long BE. Schools assume that if you successfully pass through middle Be, you will complete your sequence. – Sounds so 4th way! You joined the 4th way school, remember?
Or – this one: Following Robert’s recent comment that “behind the steward is the nine of hearts, and behind the nine of hearts is divine presence, and behind divine presence are Influence C, and behind Influence C is the Absolute,” we will aim at better understanding the responsibility of the nine of hearts in this divine equation and how to ensure its proper work.
If this is not MADNESS, then – what is?
Sadly, many students are so conditioned, addicted and stuck, that they have no other way but listen, obey and believe. And, most importantly – PAY!
Again – if any of you for some crazy reason have a thought about joining this group – please don’t! Do yourself a favour and go elsewhere. This man, RB, has no clue about awakening, he has no clue about the nature of things – all he does is squeezes out money and sperm from people.
I am so happy to finally be out of it!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

First published comment on "Fellowship of Friends - a cult for intellectuals"

[ed. - As an indication of how slowly awareness of the blog developed, the first published comment came over two months after "Fellowship of Friends - a cult for intellectuals" was posted on Animam Recro. The commenter, "Barbara" was believed by some to be former member Barbara Bruno Lancaster.]

"Barbara" commented on Fellowship of Friends - a cult for intellectuals June 24, 2006:
Just a note to let you know that this well-mannered, well-dressed, country club cult, destroyed my life. The leader, Robert Burton, has destroyed many lives. Lawsuits brought against him are always settled with a clause that the petitioner not be able to discuss the cult. If you stay alert on line, you are sometimes able to communicate with those who have become litigious prior to the settlement. Stella Wirk and her husband have amusing and horrifying information about this cult, having been two of the original six members (including Robert Burton) who started the Fellowship of Friends. There are supposedly other Gurdjieff Ouspensky groups who are not as cultish and pyramid scheming financially as the Fellowship of Friends. Best of luck with your enlightenment.