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 an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws
on official Fellowship publications and websites,
news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cheryl's story

"Cheryl" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 21, 2007:

Hello Friends, Old and New,

I am an X Student. I was in the Fellowship for 18 years and left in 2006. It took me a long time to realize that I joined to wake up, yes, and also to be saved — from my messy life, and the terror of finding myself in this really awful situation of being embodied. The Fellowship and Robert saved me – from myself. I needed that, when I was 26. I needed the structure and rules from somewhere outside of myself, to help me learn to say NO to the Wild Child within that had pretty much always been able to get away with everything. I needed someone strong in my life that I would obey without question.

I was saved! My mantra was, “Never give up.” As long as I stayed in the School and never ever left, somehow, some lifetime, I would escape this hell called Life, wake up and get to sit around in a place called Paradise with all of you, for eternity. Thank God, Thank Robert, Thank FOF!

And I came to know where I would die and be buried, and how my funeral would be. I liked to walk up to the cemetary [sic] alone and wander through the beautiful, quiet place behind the orchard. Gradually, friends were buried there, and I saw the headstones of JK, MP, RM,PB: They Had Made It! The funerals were one of the most beautiful events we had, weren’t they? We were all so close, close to one another and close to death, it was high and rich and vivid.

It was incredibly comforting to know that as I aged, someone on an octave would bring soup to my home and help me in the bathroom. It was incredibly comforting to know that as I took my last breaths in this lifetime, a circle of old friends would most likely surround me with their presence, poetry, flowers, candlelight. You would come to my funeral and then bury me up there in that lovely cemetary [sic] with my friends.

As long as I stayed, I was assured of this salvation. My body would be taken care of,my emotional centre would be surrounded by friends, and my Soul would get to come back to the next lifetime, possibly The Ninth, The One. How irresistable [sic] is that?

In addition, the Fellowship was an extraordinary and incredible world.

We could travel and disembark in the middle of Russia/Egypt/Paris/Kiev/ETC, look out and find a Friend, the one possibly holding a work book, but more recognizably, the one with that It-ness that’s been referred to here in the blog. We see one another across the crowded chaotic room, and smile a knowing smile. In the madness of Life, we are present.

I was able to play so many different roles and learn so many different things! I was a vineyard worker, I was a waitress, I was a cook, I was a dishwasher, I was an events planner, a minister, a director, an audience, a producer, a fundraiser, a palm seed planter, a palm tree waterer, a diner, a flower arranger, a teacher, a student, a lover, a friend. and more…don’t we all have these amazing lists and memories of what we did?

I was so busy. There was no room for anything else but the events, meetings, working, meetings, receptions, dinners, octaves upon octaves.

And yes, internally something did change. I developed that It-ness, the “you are what observes, not what is being observed”. At times it was so Here that I thought, “maybe it’s happened…”, and other times it was a distant taste of something that I knew I’d had but couldn’t quite access in that moment.

But over time, I allowed myself to return to some of the questions I had always put away on a shelf, ever since I joined. That it-ness, for example, It had always been with me, it didn’t just happen once I joined FOF. But when I told older students of this Truth, they quoted, “well, Influence C was already working with your grandparents and knew you were coming here.” or, “Yes, but this Way will get you there faster.” Somehow those angles always sounded a bit weird to me, and unsatisfactory.

And Life…as I became less afraid of this Life experience, Life became a wonderful thing. Why is Life a bad word in FOF, I wondered? Is it really true that all of the other people on the entire planet earth are doomed to be driven from vessel to vessel for eternity? That we somehow have a monopoly on consciousness? That we are the only ones who are on a Way? That none of the other 44 seemed to need our particular Way to wake up, but we do?

(There was no real forum to be able to ask those questions, though. If I expressed my doubts or a unique opinion I would most likely receive a photograph. and I did the same to you.)

And about those unspeakable dark shadows, what can I say? Is it really my own limited being, formatory mind, feminine dominance, my King of clubs, my Queen of Hearts…that is disturbed by … what I came to know…? I tried as hard as I possibly could to see it that way, as a limitation of mine, a result of my being under more laws. When I felt the repressed outrage rising, I quickly signed up to attend a dinner, or wash dishes, or go to a meeting. Separate! Be! Do NOT express negative emotions! Don’t gossip! I’m sure if I was there now, I’d be using the Sequence to not allow Those I’s in, to make myself believe that it is okay.

It came down to this:

After 18 years, I am terrified of myself, still. I’m terrified that if I don’t belong to FOF, I am food for the moon, I am a lost Soul, I’m going to hell. I blew it. I’m a spiritual Loser.

It came down to this:

Maybe I’m weak, stuck under too many laws, can’t see as high as my other friends, but it’s very simple…Certain things are not okay with me.

It came down to this:

I must leave to find out who I am on my own, outside of the context of FOF. I need to know who I am if I “give up” instead of clinging and grasping and “never give up.” I need to face my fear, the Fear of me. The terror of being…the horror of not-being, of NO-THING-ness.

I left.

It turns out, for me (and I do not know how it is supposed to turn out, for you…but I do wish for you to really search and really know why you are where you are. And it’s useful to fully understand where you are.), that Leaving is as fundamentally important to my Path as the Joining FOF, and as the Belonging to FOF, phases were.

Leaving is like jumping off of a cliff, it is a death, it is a good-bye. But it turns out I’m jumping into my LIFE, feeling that I actually have two feet on the ground, on my own, I can walk, wow, I can walk! (I wasn’t sure I could)

I spend a lot of time walking on an empty beach and everything is my Teacher, the IT-ness IS, and the NOT-IT-Ness, I’m nothing, and we are all and everything. IT is not dependent on my teaching payment, my hours of FOF first, second and third line.

I entered the terror of my existence and everything is ok. There was this funny feeling in the beginning of living my life, after leaving, when I’d be driving down the road and thought, “Oh, I’m allowed to live my life? I’m allowed to be, here, making my own decisions, allowing the flow of life and the universe to guide me?” and this timid opening that widened into a huge embrace that I’m free. (free of so much…so many complicated unnecessary layers in between). It’s like jumping back up out of the rabbit hole into my life and thunk! Oh, here I am! Here I am, this is the Life I am living! How gorgeous.

I also don’t want to make Leaving sound all glossy and perfect. There was a hard part right near the begining of Leaving where a lot of the repressed stuff came up, and I felt so sick that I wanted to turn myself inside out and scrub the underbelly of every cell. So I did, and now I feel cleaner. (all kinds of methods of scrubbing are possible, from a great sobbing cry to meditation to hysterical laughing to therapy to new guides and friends who gently hold you and let you be)

another hard part is missing my friends who are still there. but it isn’t as tough these days, because so many have left. In the Leaving there is the good-bye but also a long lost “HIIII!!!!” to friends I’d abandoned once in the name of the exercise. they forgave me, they understood, they’d done it too…as I forgive you, now not calling me, I understand, I did it too.

And the new connections and friends are just as IT-tty when we bring our It-ness to our new friendships, that seed within that Zsuzsa spoke of, in all of us, in everything, it can be touched, reached, accessed.

I’m really enjoying being quiet and not busy and not too many gurus or a form, and not in charge of some unbelievable octave and not wondering what else i have to do to get some awakening for me. It’s right here, right now, and it is most abundant when I’m not so obsessed with making it mine. Isn’t that funny? I don’t actually have to push, work, disallow, not express, transform, effort effort effort effort effort myself to being. It’s like what someone said earlier about the Truth, It is, we don’t have to make The Truth into truth.

Whoever you are reading this, X or Current or Never Been FOF Student, I send my love, my smiles…

I’ve been trying to hit the “submit” button now for awhile and … what is that old, familiar, constricted feeling? Oh, that’s it: It’s the fear that grew in me over the years of expressing my own, unique angle. Fear of thinking for myself, standing on my own. Amazing how thick it is, I’m still letting go and giving up, into the layers as they come.


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