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.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Former student's" Story

"Former student" wrote the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
I was a member of the Fellowship of Friends (FOF) for 12 years, though that was over 12 years ago. Yet it has only been in the last year or so that I now feel free to speak about my experience(s).
I joined when I was a full blooded, testosterone active youth of 20 years old.
My first two years were spent in a centre – a FOF outpost, where students lived together, or met up to discuss and practice the “Work”. These were times of joyful optimism, there was a sense of purpose and challenge, as I religiously read the required books and diligently performed the set exercises; all the time knowing that my attempt at Self-Remembering would produce the required results in no time at all… The only disappointment I felt was that I was stuck in this outpost of a centre. Where I really wanted to be was at the heart, where it all happened – close to the Teacher!
This desire was given extra impetus after the Teacher swept through the centre with his train of acolytes, as part of one of his exotic journeys which he was very keen on taking and of which I would partake, several years down the road. I followed everyone’s lead and bowed down in awe and made up my mind that I would up roots and move to Renaissance, as it was then called.
Indeed within a twinkling of an eye, I was soon laboring beneath a brilliant sun, building by day and burning by night! The days were long an tiring, the work hard, but the evenings were special: plenty of company, good food, lots to drink and an incredible star studded, night sky full of promise.
It wasn’t long before I got my first invitation to dine at the honored top table and soon began to feed on the attention I was being given by the Teacher. As the omnipotent, all seeing, conscious being he claimed to be, I naturally assumed everyone was the beneficiary of such cosmic affection.
So it came as a surprise when he invited me to join him on his next world tour. By this time my ego was up, I felt confident, I was definitely going somewhere. Of course I paid scant warning to the occasional asides I would receive advising me to be careful. Careful? What do I need to be careful about? I have sanctuary beneath the wings of grace.
The world tour went off without a hitch. It had it’s moments of course. Traveling with a small band of young men for eight weeks is not without it’s flash points. I for one would have certainly appreciated a bit more female company – and I don’t mean for the reasons you might be thinking. I just feel more relaxed in more balanced environment.
Anyway, after those eight weeks of high living, it was back to the vineyard by day and the wine by night. And it was probably as a result of the latter that I soon found myself proposing to a woman who I had been eyeing for awhile and had felt attracted to and which I felt was reciprocated. I suppose in a normal situation we would have simply had an affair, found out if everything worked and if we were really suited for each other. Only then made a decision about long term commitments. However, the rules stated no pre-marital sex and as I was observing the rules as this stage, there was little option; especially as there was something about this place which seemed to have the effect of boosting the sexual energy. Like the libido running on rocket fuel.
Of course marriage meant that my frequent invitations from the Teacher became less frequent. But then he had never been an open advocate of male female coupling in any form, I think he viewed it as one of the many “unnecessary necessities” that occur between the opposite sexes, children being the another. Actually I now believe women themselves fell into that category, unless they were old enough to be his mother and then he treated them like queens!
Anyway true to form I had child, after which life in the FOF became quite run of the mill, if ever it can be. Unfortunately, the marriage was not fated to last. Partly due to the artificial circumstances surrounding it’s conception, as it became evident we were not suited to each other and the child had only delayed the inevitable. Also there felt like an immense external pressure, largely due I’m sure to the active singles scene. After a long day in the field, it was sometimes too much to resist, for in spite of the rules, it was evident that students were hitting the hay left, right and centre. This was only further fuelled by a steady stream of younger, more liberally minded students making their pilgrimages from Europe and beyond.
So it was more or less back to square one. Well almost. I was now single again, eligible and yes, back on the high table!
You may be wondering what had happened to the “Work” within my life. Well I was still doing it – at least I was going to meetings, following the exercises, paying my way – if not financially, with the sweat of my brow, by working the land. But to be quite honest my main memories of this period was that I was the member of an exclusive social club, complete with all the allurements a youth in his mid-twenties could wish for.
I even fell in love again and this time decided to try out the relationship first, though I knew it involved tasting of “forbidden” fruits and liable to a hefty fine or worse. But the passionate union which followed, with its depths of intense feeling and emotion which two people encounter when trying to experience the moment, within the moment which the act of making love demands, seemed to justify my decision and still makes me shudder to this day. The only response I recall at the time was: this can’t be wrong – give me more!
In fact my wish was duly granted for it was at this point that things took a turn – not necessarily for the worse in the beginning, but certainly in another direction.
The most memorable moment occurred after one of the Teacher’s so called Symposiums, this was the name of the all male dinners he was in the habit of hosting each weekend. Indeed true to their title they mainly amounted to little more than drinking parties, taking more of the form of a Bacchanalia without the accompanying Maenads – though I was soon to discover there a sting in the tail.
After dinner it was the custom of the Teacher to retire while the rest of the young men hung around and chatted. I think I was trying to recall how much Cognac I had consumed, when the Teacher’s man servant came and whispered in my ear that the Teacher would like to speak to me. So I slipped out of the room, making my way along the hall to his study, where I knocked on his door.
When I entered he looked a little surprised, but then invited me to sit down on the couch next to him. This was all very cozy I thought. I began to wonder what words of wisdom he might impart, as I definitely felt in the mood for something insightful. So you can imagine my surprise when he reached over and started to undo my trousers. If fact, I was so taken back that I must have slipped into a kind of reverie, for the next thing I was aware of was the Teacher’s head between my legs performing fellatio.
Strangely enough I did not resist, which would have been the obvious reaction, as I had always considered myself very straight, finding the whole gay scene somewhat distasteful – at least not up my particular street! However, probably the combination of the cognac, with the fact that this was my all-knowing Teacher, plus the no doubt subconscious curiosity of what it might be like to do it with another man, permitted me to submit and allow the whole process to reach it’s natural conclusion – or unnatural conclusion, depending on which way you view it.
Anyway, obviously delighted by my apparent willingness and after taking a drink of water, the Teacher then confessed that he had not expected me to come, but another boy by the same name. So it seemed I had jumped the queue – for queue it certainly was. With my subsequent entry into the inner sanctum, not only did the concept of a “Man Number Seven” take on a whole different meaning, but I was soon to discover that I had become the member of what can only be described as a rather exclusive male harem.
As I was ushered out into the night air and mind played over what had taken place, the stars above which had once offered so much promise appeared to pale a little. Though part of me cried out violation, another part was quite frankly bewildered – almost intrigued. The sexual part wasn’t that much of a big deal, whether it’s a man or woman giving you a blow job it amounts to much the same, especially if you close your eyes, which I did. The worrying part was who was initiating it and why? It’s not as if the signals were not there. A few knowing, dare I say complicit, students had warned me, but I had either mocked them, or turned a deaf ear. Unfortunately I was unable to answer the question “why” and even if I had plucked up the courage to ask him I’m sure he would have given me some cosmic justification from higher forces. All I know is that the words and phrases he had uttered up until now and had once seemed so full of meaning and significance, had now lost their magic. For I was forced to contemplate the unthinkable: were they simply part of an insidious seduction strategy. Whatever the reason, my immediate concern was how was I going to handle this?
As it turned out, I did not have to worry, for I was quick to discover that the Teacher did all the handling for me. Indeed, the flood gates were now open and I was given a good handling at regular intervals, often without breaks in between. This man had a voracious appetite. Not only that, I was expected to put in my whole quota of daily labor at the same time.
However, far from being exhausted I also noticed that my sexual prowess toward the opposite sex began to manifest stronger than ever. It was as if the one sided clandestine rituals which were taking place within the Teacher’s study needed to be compensated by the intermingling of some good wholesome male / female energies.
And that’s what happened, for it wasn’t long before I found myself on what can only be described as a sexual rollercoaster ride. As the demands of my Teacher grew, I in turn sought refuge in the beds of willing females who would remind me of who I was, or who I thought I should be, though by this time all I felt was confusion. Worse still, I began to treat the women in the manner in which I felt I was being treated. It’s a fact that when one is seen to be close to the Teacher, one takes on a sort of reflected aura. Other students, especially newer ones, start to treat you as if you have something to offer (by proxy, as it were). This imaginary power is then yours to use, or given the quality of my immediate role model, to abuse. For a little favor on their part, I too could in turn offer them a hopeful word or two, especially if she was young and attractive!
Fortunately, I was awake enough to recognize how much I abhorred this kind of behavior. Even after many years I am still highly sensitive to this area and still regard it is one of the worst kinds of psychological abuses of power. To think it was a method that my former Teacher practiced on a daily basis, without so much as a scruple. I’m sure he still does.
So I have to pose the question once again, where had the “Work” gone in my life? Well, it had become smothered. The fire which had once driven my search for truth had all but gone out and I felt I was stumbling through a haze of thick smoke. One thing I did do was start observing the “Teacher’s actions with a new and critical eye. My proximity in his life gave me the opportunity to see things from the inside, so to speak, and often what I saw made me gasp. His outward persona was that of a powerful and charismatic leader – charisma is a quality irrespective of the person’s personality and can be found in everyone from de[s]pots through business me[n], to artists and has the power to attract, shock and awe! However, what I observed in private was an insecure, selfish man, with a raft of infantile tendencies, which were evident not only in his reactions to external events, but in his penchant for trying to predict the future – often catastrophes on a large scale. I even experienced moments where I felt sorry for this individual, as his inflated ego tried to provide an explanation for “everything and nothing”, while ascribing it to some higher force. (Much of this behavior only made sense later on when I became deeply involved with the works of Jung – part of my post FOF healing process.)
But now I sought ways out. First I tried confiding with a few close friends about what was taking place, but it was evident to see that even those people I regarded as my closest allies looked at me with disbelief, as I revealed the alter ego of their beloved Teacher. Such unsavory information was too much to swallow and they chose either not to hear, or to excuse his behavior in some fashion or other. Indeed, like I had been, they and 1500 other people were under his spell.
Next I decided to leave Renaissance and attempt to re-activate my work in some FOF outpost in the middle of no-where – at least that’s how it felt. But still the Teacher tracked me down and though I wasn’t physically with him, he made his physical presence known.
Finally there was one last recourse. I had to muster the courage to confront this man and express my feelings about the whole situation; something which I had until this point been unable to do with any conviction. I knew I had to prepare myself, as I was pretty certain what the reaction would be, having witnessed him deal with so called ‘rebellious’ students in the past.
I was not to be disappointed. In fact I only had to utter a few key words which appeared to question his behavior. At some point I must have made mention to a “moral deficiency”, which really put the cat among the pigeons. Anyway, it wasn’t long before the silent and overbearing wrath of someone who I can only describe as verging on fully fledged egomania, was threatening me with portents of hell and damnation, or words from some passage you could quite easily find in the Old Testament.
But I stood my ground, besides at this point I had little left to loose. In fact I began to grow in confidence as the initial burden fell away and a sense of relief crept over me. I began to sense the shallowness and immaturity of his words – those of a selfish child, who has been deprived of a handful of sweets. And that was that!
The days leading up to my leaving the FOF where very painful – the stars had now well and truly gone out. I just knew I had to go, but it was still the equivalent of emotional amputation. I had come to realize that I had over the years grown to become two separate persons, my work persona had gone one way, while who I really was had remained true. It was the latter which provided the chink of light through which I could make my escape. However getting my two parts to re-unite once again and work in some kind of harmony would take another twelve years of rehabilitative effort. Before this would happen, I would have to plunge very deep.
I left the FOF with nothing, or so it seemed. All my physical attachments were severed – my so called “friends”, family, home were pulled from under one’s feet, like some perverse party trick. I only had my thoughts, my recollections – which were to haunt me for years. Then there was the fear of what would happen to my during my return to “life*”. After all I had now passed beneath hell’s arch, which bore the inscription: “All hope abandon ye who enter here”.
However, this is the subject of another episode: of rebuilding, reaffirmation and re-gaining confidence and self-esteem, all of which had been pretty much knocked out of me. What I can safely say is that you only know you are brainwashed if you are fortunate to emerge from out the other side. Until then it is like a drug that slowly permeates you mind, as you become part of a small world with it’s crooked and twisted ways and utterly blind and deaf to the faces and voices of sanity on the outside.
I therefore dedicate the above to those who find the will or the way – or simply the luck – to make it out and so have the possibility of knowing what it is to taste true freedom.
* “Life” or “life people” is the name given to those outside the FOF and therefore effectively dead, or without possibilities. A wonderful piece of irony!

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