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.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Positive testimonials! (Well, a few anyway.)

"Mary Battista" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 18, 2007:
I will share with you my experience of being a member for only six months. (2005 & 2006)

The town “Dobbins” is the town right next door to Oregon House where Fellowship of Friends is located “Isis” is what they call it. I am fifty two years old, I grew up here in Dobbins, I moved back only four years ago. Being a local person I shocked everyone when I join.

FOF welcome me with open arms I only had problems with a handful of students. My husband was not a member because of health reasons.

I knew the past “keyperson” for FOF I asked him if my life would be in danger being a member he gave me the best advice. NO at no time would my life be in danger. I joined FOF because I fully understand their beliefs and YES I knew of the past that never bothered me. I judge no one in this life.

I could not afford to spend more than the $150 a month for my student payment being on disability myself.

If I could still afford to be a member I would be. I still get their monthly newsletter and I love reading them.


As to my beliefs I believe very strongly with their beliefs but one needs to “hold with presents” their own control of their own life’s to reach their sole.

If one goes into FOF for the right reasons your life as you control it will still be yours to control.

As to the past experiences some members have had I never once read anybody at FOF had a gun to their head at anytime.

In Friendship Always

Mary Battista

"Mary Battista" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 19, 2007:
To all the people who have been reading this blog I can ensure you that 99% of the membership knew the past history of FOF. That’s a FACT, that’s the TRUTH!

From the first Prospective Student meeting I attended to my last “keys” meeting I had always been approached by either older students or newer ones asking my thoughts of the history of FOF. How could I being a local person join FOF. My answer never vary, I always said I was there for “self remembering” and to be present.

I will also inform you that FOF will survive this and this blog WILL INDEED BRING NEW membership to FOF. Why do I know this “HISTORY” always repeats its self. Ever since the internet was made posible you could do a search under FOF and find out the history. It was never buried it was always there for all to see it. It’s even been published in books.

Center Directors for FOF are there for EVERY student. Use them please!!!!!!!!

In Friendship Always

Mary Battista (ex-member of FOF)

"Mary Battista" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 20, 2007:
In response to “another name” (276)

Please understand that I knew the history of FOF BEFORE I joined. It never played a part of me in the school or when I left.

I did not leave FOF because of what was going on there.

I left ONLY because I could no longer efford [sic] my student payment due to the great expenses of my husbands health. He has Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Trust me I did not want to leave the “School”.

I believe one needs the school.

What I miss the most is Benjamin [Yudin] doing the keys meeting. James talking about the history of the Egyptians and Marcus [Lasken] when he said his quotes. I miss the spiritual feeling they were able to spread their love for the work.

I miss all the students, ISIS Center directors that helped transform my many shocks when I needed a little extra help.

Actually I want back into the school.

Even though I was only a student for six months it has enriched my life. Before when I would work on my roses I would not hear the birds sing or feel the wind hitting my face.

Because of what I learned in FOF with self remembering and being in the present.

I now hear and see the birds and I can hear the wind high up on Oregon Peak and see the tops of the pines trees flowing in the wind. Yes I’m still asleep some but my machine has its seconds of being awake. Is that how my machine has verify my work. Yes.

I work hard at attempting in self remembering but my machine needs the school and students.

Was I a good student no to be honest the dresses would be off the second I entered my house and my jeans would be on. As soon as I would drive out of the gate at Isis I would turn on my CD player on high and listen to IL DIVO drivng home to Dobbins.

I have strong beliefs in self remembering and beliefs in the school.

To Linda Tulisso [Linda Kaplan] and Karen Johnston I miss you dearly.

In Friendship Always

Mary Battista

"Current Student" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 28, 2007:
I´m been in FOF since 14 years and like John, I´m not in economical crisis because School, etc…

Probably if Gurdjieff would exist in these days, would have another forum like this or worse.

Robert ask for money, yes, but all the money goes to build the city called Isis, a city that he is not the owner, is the FoF, he is going to die probably in 15 years, but he works at incrible [sic] path to follow with this aim, and this city is what will be there after 50, 100, 200 years, something beautifull [sic] for this terrible world, a song of beauty and light to those that want to see.

Right now, All people can visit this city, it is not a monastery, it is a community, and the things that this city can evoke in you, only can be transmited [sic] if you go there and experiment with a clean heart, you can visit without be a member.

Robert has never been in jail, so let the justice decide who is pedhofile [sic] and who not. People who join the School is asked to have more than [age] 18.

The spiritual path is difficult one, everyone knows that. We as School has more than 35 years, and I don´t think we are a dangerous one, we can be mistake, Robert has made many of them, we may also be distorting the fourth way (please go to to verify it for yourself) [ed. - Dead link] or what people called fourth way (even Ouspensky says you have to rebuild the system), but at least this School provides a safe (physical at least) way to experiment a interpretation of the 4th way, and use it for your own evolution, if you have the right attitude.

Best Regards,

The Dharma is only a collection of words and letters that has to be discarded when we have reached the other shore. - Gampopa

"medusa" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 28, 2007:
I didn’t think that I would be writing again, simply because I don’t find it as useful and as educational as reading , but post # 265 from “current student” deserves some attention.Question to you then: what kind of blindness or deep self-deception are you affected by in order to believe that the FoF money is only turned into tar for “our” roads or flowers for “our” gardens? MOST of it is turned into…
SPERM (sorry, don’t mean to be vulgar, only truthful..). Do you even know ( and if you don’t , why don’t you take responsibility in getting better informed about your community life) how much money is spent EVERY MONTH in airplane tickets, visas, green cards, properties, jewelry, expenses, medical bills, Viagra pills, vibrators, cars, pregnant ballerina (and correlative expenses), fancy clothing for every old and new “MEMBER” in the harem etc.. by your beloved “teacher”? that money is sucked out of the pockets and the labor of people that often end up having No choice at all, no means to move away even an inch. You have money? good for you.But have you at least had the honesty and courage to actually READ some of the posts ? There are not all coming from outsiders, you fool, many are written by students that came here for the same reasons you had for yourself, and lived in this same community , driving on your same precious tainted roads and admiring the same nice flowers, some of them for even longer then you have.THEY have seen it ALL. They don’t try to egoistically buffer Robert’s sexual perversion as you are doing , and justify it in the name of …..WHAT? Palms? Ballet?…The sequence?? What a convenient position you have, but really, for you own sake…GET BETTER INFORMED and take it ONLY from there.Imagine being your own parent..what good advice would you give to yourself?

“Keep your eyes and ears close Dear, everything is fine, just ignore it..”…I don’t think so.Physically safe, you said?What the hell do you mean???…do you know how many sexually transmitted diseases are secretively treated by our fellowship doctors every year ? Do you acknowledge the trauma of those asked to PERFORM devious sexual acts ON Robert, including oral sex, defecation, urination and fist penetration? And Yes, they all came for their Souls, the Work and the Beauty….Actually this letter doesn’t mean to be personal to you,poor thing, but it is for all of those other “Current Students” such as yourself, oblivious and in deep, pathetic, denial. Enjoy your “City of Angels” my dear….

"medusa" added:
P.S I have far more respect for those who acknowledge the suffering around them and decide to live with it , then people like yourself who pretend it doesn’t even exist…

"The Master of Bullshit" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
Rita, all that you have said could have been said 25 years ago. Those who stay, stay. Those who leave, leave. The fact that 80% of students leave is what keeps the School on such a high level. Those who stay accept the miraculous on its own terms, not on terms that their mother taught them.

"Charlie Nothing" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
It’s interesting to see more contributions from current FOF members.

[Quoting above] Post #265: “this city is what will be there after 50, 100, 200 years”.

By “city” the writer means Isis. It’s not actually a city but a large piece of land from which the FOF once ran a vineyard. It’s covered with vines, mostly left to run to seed these days. There are some FOF buildings too. The centerpiece is the Galleria, where Burton lives with his young men and where FOF events are held. It’s surrounded by a small but attractive garden area.

Burton predicted that the world would end in 2006, with some kind of nuclear holocaust. Only Isis and the FOF members would survive. From them would come a new civilisation, based on blowjobs (sorry, the last three words were a joke, the rest is true). I guess the date must have been moved further into the future now.

Burton refers to Isis as a “city state”, although it’s obviously nothing of the kind. Presumably he’s referring to its future status. Anyway, FOF members are required to believe all this, or at least to pretend to believe it. Hence the statements in post #265. The writer appears to sincerely believe that the “city of Isis” will exist for centuries. I assume that the reason for the belief is simply that Burton said so.

Post #282 [above] introduces a related FOF concept: “Those who stay accept the miraculous on its own terms, not on terms that their mother taught them.” This means that the FOF and Burton are accepted just as they are, with no questions asked. The “mother” is also known as “feminine dominance”. This means moral conscience, which must be put aside in the presence of the “miraculous”. Burton generally refers to “Influence C” as being the miraculous. This is “conscious influence’, a number of deceased “conscious beings” who are thought be be helping FOF students to awaken. Advanced students always claim to have “verified C influence”. This used to be achieved by spotting the number 44 on car number plates, but I’m not sure how it’s done now.

I’d be interested to know what the Master Of BS has actually experienced in the way of the miraculous, if he would be willing to share.

"Walter Tanner" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 30, 2007:
Fellow Travelers,

Walter Tanner here, FOF November 1992 to September 1999. Don’t regret my time there, the “charm school” aspects alone are worth the money spent. Robert Burton is a horny goat, but his sexual tastes are a bit white bread, like his teaching. No doubt people have been damaged by his dominating behavior, but who of us is without sin in relationship to our sexual drives? (I will not cast the first stone.)

As the Regional Coordinator for eastern North America just before leaving, I freely told new and prospective students that every time you write that monthly donation check, you should deeply consider if you’re getting what you’re paying for. And if not, leave. Same advice to current students. To the angry ex-students: let it go — RB’s got his kingdom and court and let’s just watch what happens.

After the FOF I went to Harvard Divinity School (M.T.S. 2002) and studied history and philosophy of religion, mysticism and new religious movements. I’m now in a Ph.D. program in philosophy and religion. The FOF is following, almost perfectly, the template of charismatic millennial cults – after 3 predictions fail, membership begins to wane. A smart guru will try and change things up, which I hear RB is doing. But even if the movement doesn’t die out from lack of money, I doubt it will survive the founder’s death. (Especially if Girard is still the official #2–is that right?)

But 4th Way is the sly man’s way — which means the very mendacity of your guru can shock you into realizations and true changes of Being.

I could go on and on, its so nice to hear the voices of people I loved and respected. Please email me at if you’d like to chat, and if you are in the Bay Area (I’m in San Francisco) I’d love to catch up over coffee, beer, wine or whatever.

Best to all and thanks Sheik for the effort,


P.S. I’d love to get into the meat of spiritual systems, the reality of enlightenment, free will vs. determinism, and other matters of the greatest importance. I’ve been lucky since the FOF to find communities where these discussions thrive, and my position has…evolved.

"Vinnie the Fish" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 31, 2007:
Interesting, Confused Shiek, you describe what I often have during and after meetings. (But you left out ‘love’.)

That’s what keeps me going, the higher states.

Where else could I meet a group of ‘friends’ and sit around or have dinner with the sole aim of holding the attention within this infinitesimally-thin slice of time called The Present?

Some of you people seem to feel hard-done-by.

I don’t. My only slightly burdensome obligation is to make a minimum monthly payment, but hey what’s free these days?

I follow my own conscience ahead of anyone else’s advice, since I WILL DIE ALONE WITH MY CONSCIENCE.

I love my life, and being in the school is a great part of that. I hate gushing superlatives like ‘wonderful’, but it’s pretty f’in good I gotta tell ya! I’ve never recommended it to anyone else though, who knows what is good for others?

I do what pleases my conscience, so I do what I like and I like what I do or I wouldn’t do it in the first place. I never liked abstract art, but if I did I sure wouldn’t block that part of me off that I know is good and then blame someone else for stealing it!

‘Selling out’ that used to be called in the 60’s.

Like with rock music, I listen to it sometimes, and sometimes I feel it dragging me into nostalgia and I flick it to classical.

Discrimination is a serious requirement for spiritual growth.

If George Bush wanted to blow me I’d say ‘no thanks good buddy’, but I wouldn’t necessarily leave the USA if I lived there. He just happens to be in the role of President and I might happen to live there! (not).

"Walter Tanner" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 7, 2007:
Fellow Travelers,

If it is true that Fellowship officials are trying to re-cast Robert’s failed prophecies as somehow metaphorical, then they are truly the hypocritical cronies some make them out to be.

I was living at Apollo Spring-Summer 1998 when California was to fall into the Sea. Most students who could stored up food, installed water tanks, bought generators…the guy I lived with even got a hydraulic jack in case his house (on a hill) collapsed! I personally knew one individual who nearly bankrupted his family with his “preparations.” Luckily his wife had a good job.

Students in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles got “out of town” for a particular two-week period–I don’t recall the exact dates–that Robert said were the most likely times. At the company where I worked (in Oregon House), sales trips were also cancelled at this time.

It was a level of madness, but hey, there are earthquakes in California and it never hurts to have some food stored away. So I contributed to the house food fund, but the only other “preparation” I made was to buy a nice combo mountain-touring bike.

When it didn’t happen Robert was just confused as to why C influence would trick him in this manner. The most sophisticated Fellowship theologians (I consider myself in the category) said it was obviously some divinely given “suffering” for Robert’s higher centers to transform.

So no more talk that anything was taken metaphorical. Maybe privately by certain folks, but everyone’s public face was making “preparations.”

PS: There are different “generations” within the Fellowship. Of all those people in the memorial weekend photos, I only know one. As I learned when I was a student myself in the 90’s, the 70’s and 80’s were a lot more uptight and “cultish,” and Robert’s exploits a bit more creative (There used to be “Symposiums,” I understand, with ridiculous amounts of wine. Sorry to have missed that.)

I came in as the homosexuality exercise was lifted, and I left after all traces of any sex exercise were lifted. (I traveled to Paris, Nice, Italy and Slovenia and was able to announce the lifting of the sex exercise in my role as “traveling teacher.” Didn’t get laid, though)

So what I’m basically saying is that by my time things were a lot groovier, there was no “hell” language, the Fellowship had kind-of grown up. A lot of the hostility, which may be absolutely legitimate, does come from the “first” generations of the Fellowship, and I think to identify to closely with their arguments will blind one to the fact the Fellowship has changed in the past and could absolutely do so in the future.

[ed. - I'd say the following is a parody by someone who knows better. But I'll include it in the "positive testimonials" for its entertainment value.]

"Mahatma Coat" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 12, 2007:
Moon Angel 551 asked a very significant question: “What are the students actually learning?”

I’m a relatively new member of the School. I’ve learnt that the Fellowship is the only real School, so only students of the School will awaken.

Our principle tool is the Sequence, which has been used as a spiritual exercise since prehistoric times. I practice the sequence many times each day. I believe that if I can maintain this consistently I will raise myself to a higher level at the end of this lifetime so that next lifetime I will awaken.

I’m happy to relate that I was at a dinner with Robert where he said that everyone in the room was in their eighth lifetime. This means that I’m going to wake up on my next lifetime! Well worth a few hundred dollars a month, I would say!

I’ve learnt that faith is as important as verification.

I’ve learnt that the Teacher is a conscious being on approximately the same level as Jesus, and so to apply ordinary human criteria to him is absurd. He is so far above us it’s not surprising his behaviour is unususual [sic].

I’m sure there’s more to learn too…

Good luck to all!


"Rhino Neal" [same poster as Mahatma Coat] wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 13, 2007:

I was unpleasantly surprised by the way Mahatma Coat was treated on the previous page. Whether or not he (she?) was real, the views expressed were precisely those espoused by sincere FoF students, eg I will awaken next lifetime, RB is a conscious being who can do no wrong, etc. It would have been interesting to hear more from him, but he was immediately dumped on by Bruce and co and appears to have been scared off.

Bruce, Unanimo and others seem to be intent on creating a kind of alternative universe here where only views acceptable to themselves can be expressed. My impression is that these people left the FoF a while ago and have developed a warped imaginary picture of it. Don’t get me wrong – I agree that the teaching is absurd and RB is dangerous – but it seems that bloggers like myself who left the FoF recently and are still in close touch with many current FoFers don’t post here much any more because many of the posts don’t seem to have much relationship to the actual FoF as we see it.

It would be easier to have a more balanced discussion if you guys would lighten up a bit, and maybe wait a few hours before lashing out. Are you really so sure of your own opinions that you are unable to accept that a young, naive spiritual seeker might still be taken in by the FoF teaching and that he or she might not necessarily be a complete moron?

yrs, RN

"Ronald Lancaster" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 16, 2013:
I was in the FOF from ’75 to ’84. I left the L. A, Center with my wife Barbara when we heard the extent of Robert’s activities. I had almost no contact with him anyway, besides I felt I graduated. I had learned as much as I could learn in the organization. The rest was up to me. Reading these and other posts I see mostly bitterness at Robert’s outrages. I agree, the stuff he has gotten away with is evil, but I don’t and didn’t give it much thought after my departure. He has to meet his maker same as everyone else. I’ll let his demons lead him away. In the meantime, almost 30 years now, I never left the Work and practice and study it as much as ever. Those early days when I was bowled over by Ouspensky’s writings are still with me. It is still beautiful. I see from the posts that I am about the only one keeping to the System. Everyone else seems to have modified it to suit their whims or rejected it altogether. I remember Gurdjieff saying somewhere that the System was only here for a time, and I guess that time is past, but for me. I read Nicoll everyday and work on self-remembering, self-observation, and avoiding negative emotions as best as I can. I would be interested in others who would like to do the same, who do not think the 4th Way is Robert Burton. He was a key that opened a world to me, but if he didn’t do his own work and fed off of others, that is his problem. I live in Tucson Arizona and I still have a brother, William, and sister in law, Lorraine, and their daughter, in the Fellowship. I hear Williiam just resigned as the CFO of the FOF. We don’t discuss the Fellowship. Yours, R

"Tim Campion" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 17, 2013:

Hi, Ronald. Wasn’t it Barbara who kicked this whole thing off with Comment #1 on June 24, 2006? You might want to check out the Greater Fellowship website. There you can find a number of stimulating conversations on the subjects you mention. (And it’s free!)

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