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.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shelley Mitchell's story

Holy Smoke with Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet
"Shelley Mitchell" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 16, 2007 at 7:33 p.m.:
Sheik [blog moderator], first of all, thank you for your time and guidance on this forum. I am an ex fof member. If anyone reading this would like to see a brilliant treatment of the controversy at the root of this bittersweet blog I suggest you see Harvey Keitel’s performance in Jane Campion’s film HOLY SMOKE (with Kate Winslet). I coached Mr. Keitel for his role. Jane Campion used material directly from true stories I shared about the fof.

I joined the Followship in 1975 where Girard was center director and was ‘kicked out’ with a letter signed by him 17 years later. During my tour of duty I was married for a few years to Robert’s #1 gate keeper, organizer and personal assistant [Thomas Easley]. I was also Robert’s personal chauffeur, ‘hostess’ and point person in New York City for about 5 years in the late 70s. I often wondered why there was a tube of KY jelly next to the toothpaste in his hotel bathroom. To say I was naïve would be generous. It took me 10 years to leave after I DID find out why the KY was there. WHY did it take so long to exit? I was nearly 30 years old and had passed the bulk of my 20s in the fof. I burnt my bridges with anyone I knew in my chosen profession and I felt unequipped to confront the superficiality and crassness of popular culture. My days continued to be peppered with C-influence (synchronicities) despite the sense of personal betrayal and manipulation I felt, not only by Robert but even more by most of the people he authorized to speak on his behalf. (Many of whom, shockingly, were skeptical regarding C-Influence!) During the mid 1980s I tried to have the conversation now flowing in this forum and was highly criticized and eventually rejected for it. I lived (hid out) in Europe and despite my personal doubts about the fof became the center director of a small city in Northern Italy where there were only two students… my husband being the other one. If I do say so myself, I think we directed each other with great aplomb. I started to get in trouble once some young Italian people actually started joining and visiting (or immigrating to) Renaissance. Before they left for America I warned them that they might get hit on by the teacher. I worded it more delicately, of course, but it wasn’t long before I got a call from Guinevere [Guinevere-Ruth Mueller] and then Robert himself asking me not to speak about his personal life to anyone, ever again… or else! I told both Guinevere and Robert that for my own personal ethic I needed to be honest with these young international travelers about the possibility that they might be seduced. Notwithstanding the fact that I found the 4th way work to be a driving force in my own search for meaning, I also confessed to these young Italians my own confusion at being a spokesperson for an organization whose leadership I questioned. During one long distance (Oregon House-Italy) conversation with Robert, I told him that I had nothing against homosexuality, that I actually thought it was cool. I said something to the effect that he should take away the exercise against it and accept himself as he was. He told me that he was not a homosexual but that he actually became a woman when he was with these young men, and that the sex was part of his, and their, awakening. I held my ground and said that, for my own personal reasons, I would continue to warn young travelers about what they might encounter upon meeting him. I added that it was up to their own discretion what to do. I also told Robert that I loved him (which is true) and that there were no words to express how much I valued what I had learned through his efforts as a teacher. At the end of this 20 minute conversation he asked me to pass the phone to my husband. Robert apologized to him for any pain he may have caused and asked him to pass the phone back to me. Robert told me what he had just said to my husband. I think I thanked him and put the phone down. I know I was shaking. My husband was crying. We both sat very still and silent for a long, long time.

…I am of Jewish Russian descent, Minsk and Kiev.

My heart goes out to all, but especially to any confused young students from Eastern Europe.


"Shelly M." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 10, 2007:
Whale Rider

Thank you for your post. This blog is like an opera and your contribution has driven the dramatic tension to it’s highest level yet. I agree that page 8 has some of the most revealing and potentially healing posts on it because of your contribution. I’m the person who bought the LeBrun painting at auction (around 1977/8), so hearing that it represents such painful memories is very sad. LeBrun was Marie Antoinette’s favorite portrait painter so god knows what other hedonistic indulgences that painting has seen.
I’m sure we met when you visited New York but I can’t place who you are. I often used to carry a NY Times with me during the day while I was acting as driver/tour guide. I usually read it at lunch because I was routinely ignored by the mostly male entourage traveling with RB. I assure you that the actress in me found being ignored all day by group of really, really hot young men was REALLY, really boring. Laura Bishop was there but, lovely and loving as she was, she was practically a male herself, so nobody wanted to chit chat with me! (Well, Martha M. was fun sometimes, hi Martha if you’re reading this!) The newspaper was also a way to transform the heavy energy due to the sometimes-deafening silence at the lunch table because the shell-shocked young men like you had just been raped and then spent the next morning with me and RB touring museums and antique shops. I remember one young man who had never been through a revolving door. I loved watching him play with the door at Lincoln Center (was that you?). He kept spinning round and round. He was beautiful, so genuinely innocent… kind of like a living anthropological find. The artist in me related to the whole situation as if it was performance art. At that time I could see RB was a flamer and I asked a couple of older students about it. They told me he once had a girlfriend but was currently celibate. (More performance art.) I let it rest at that. What would I have done had I known what was happening to you guys? I don’t know. I had been subjected to similar abuses from a number of unscrupulous acting teachers and older actors. I thought the FOF was save haven from all that. My experience in and out of the FOF has been peppered by such an abundance of improbable and remarkable synchronicities that I think I simply would have short-circuited. Like many artists, I was appalled at the direction our society was going. The FOF seemed like a viable, miraculous alternative. A rebel in a bourgeois setting. I could be anti-establishment and still wear Gucci. The Jewish Princess in me was DELIGHTED! I had no family to speak of and burned all my bridges in life so there was nowhere to go back to at the time. I was eventually kicked out, which I’m very proud of, thank you Girard. The synchronicities were the main spiritual reason I stayed in so long. It took me 10 years to leave once I DID find out about the sexual abuse. I guess what I’m saying is. it took me 10 years to process the…abuse/synchronicity (C influence), and like it or not, consistent, intelligent, moment-to-moment teaching from RB.
Notwithstanding that I was a trained actress and performer I was never once asked by RB or any center directors to even read a poem. I’m actually very, very grateful for that fact now, as it would have seemed like another kind of violation of my sensibilities, although at the time I simply felt rejected. Once, while living in Venice around 1986, RB send two beautiful young men with a rare bottle wine as a gift for me; all the way from California. They said that RB wanted me to move to Renaissance and run a theater for the students. I said I would do it if he also supplied the young men and a life-time prescription of tranquilizers. Little did I know the joke I had made!
From 1981 to 1991 my name was SYNONYMOUS with cheeky, irreverent, ‘disrespectful’, questionings… posing too many questions to too many traveling teachers and to too many of my high ranking friends who were also chums of RB. I wanted to know what they knew, how long they knew it and what they were doing about IT. (kinda like this blog!) Because of my notoriety … and I trust Sandra C. will vouch for me on this one (hi Sandra). I was barred from attending one of the first recovery groups for former FOF members in Marin county, California. This was a recovery group with a lot of former center directors intoxicated by their own lust for authority! One of them, who’s name is the same as Ireland’s most famous ballad about a tarty fishmonger, demanded that everyone in the group agree to ban me or else she would leave. The tarty fishmonger prevailed and I was banned. RB was not in on this one. The only FOF member who called to give me condolences was the beautiful Margrit. Sandra C. called a few months later to apologize and compare notes on being newly widowed single mothers. So, I ask myself, what could be so threatening from a scatterbrained, insecure goof ball type actress like myself? Nothing more or less than what’s been exposed on this blog. Feeling and speaking about the pain. Relating on a level playing field. Being Human. So thank you Sheik. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
In 1981 I found out about RB’s indiscretions (from no less an authority than Linda R. or whatever her name is now) [Linda Kaplan/Linda Tulisso]. What did I do? Please read my post on page 6 for starters. I initially I stayed in bed for days, unable to move or communicate. RB came and stayed at our house in London by coincidence at that time. I would not exit my room until he left the house and if he entered a room I was in I walked out (dramatically!). I then started asking questions to anyone with access to and authority from RB. I was confused. As I said it took 10 years to leave.
I brought children (a 13 years old) to the dinner table with RB in Venice (someone else’s child, I did not have any of my own at the time) rather than leave her home alone. RB didn’t like it but he gave the girl a Hermes scarf the next day, he said she was a third generation student. When I presented the scarf to her she started crying because she said it was a mockery in light of the marginalization she’d experienced during the formative years of her childhood growing up at Renaissance.
What else did I do… Small rebellious conversations with the right-wingers at dinners here and there. I gave myself permission to follow my own passion and married a gorgeous Italian man whose beauty and charm I delighted in.
So, Why did RB let a rabble rouser like me hang around so long? It’s kind of a no brainer but for those of you who haven’t figured it out, let me explain. Rumor had it that I had a rich dad. Unfortunately my dad was not so rich but I sure must have looked pretty classy because RB kept me around for over a decade while I was asking a lot of gnarly questions. I think he had hopes of shaking me upside down once my old man kicked the bucket. In 1992 when I told him my dad was very healthy and that, not only didn’t I come from such a wealthy family but furthermore, I was low on funds, had a small child and stormy marriage; well blog readers it only took about a week and then both me and my husband got the boot.
For those of you leaving the FOF now the books that were most helpful to me were Talking with Angels, (a Holocaust diary from Gitta Mallasz), The Road Less Travelled, The Power of Silence by Castenades and Jean Shinoda Bolen’s The Tao of Psychology. I made a performance piece out of Talking with Angels. (also produced by the California Institute of Integral Studies , Inst. of Noetic Science and the Carl Jung Inst. of SF and Chicago) People who see it often ask me where I get the energy to perform it. After reading 3000+ posts on this blog I need not explain further. I don’t know when I’ll be performing next but you can check at if you’re interested.
Again Sheik - thank you for this opportunity to communicate and heal.


"Shelley M." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 21, 2007 at 10:40 am:
A few “before I knew” stories:


Once, while on the plaza at Lincoln Center with a bunch of students waiting to see the ballet, RB got behind me, took my arm, stretched it out and made me point to a scantly dressed young female performance artist who was doing some kind of edgy routine for the crowd. He whispered in my ear “she is evil”. I was appalled and shot back “no she’s not”. I felt a great deal of tension at that moment because I was an actress too and also and disappointment that my teacher could be so provincial. Little did I know.

Another story: London

Once, around 1981, while having lunch at the Waterside Inn (one of the most expensive restaurants in the world) RB and I were having a chat. It was shortly after T. and I were married and, T. being T., I discovered how s-t-u-b-b-o-r-n that man could be. Well, I knew that T. had lived with RB from 1972 to 1980 and I said, “Gee, I’m glad he was with you before he was with me because if he’s this stubborn now he must have been a real case before he lived with you!” Well RB looked at me with horror on his face. I didn’t know what I’d said wrong!

"Shelley M." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 24, 2007:
#207 Lust for Life

re my post #199

In 1981 there was an exposé in one of the large London newspapers about RB’s [Robert Burton's] homosexual behavior with students and the Fellowship as a cult. There was a connection between the article and the highly influential parents of a London student named Anne R. [Anne Rodney] This article came out shortly after the article in the S.F. Chronicle. It caused a wave of “oh mys” in the London center, where Girard and Barbara were directors.

Linda T.R.K. [Linda Kaplan/Linda Tulisso] visited London around that time and we went out to a pub together for a drink. I was telling her how horrible I thought the press was being and how absurd it was that ANYONE would accuse RB of deceiving us. She took pity on me and told me that everything in the article was TRUE. A chasm opened up from under my feet at that moment (wowie wooie, third state!) and the conflict between my experience with synchronicity, my friendships in the fof and the politics of the fof was born.

Traveler’s post #237 pretty much sums up where I’m at currently. A force greater than our own created this world. That force appears to have intelligence far beyond the human mind. That’s about all we can know for sure. Who we are and how we live our lives is ultimately defined by our own conscience. An incredible Native American woman named Leslie Gray ( ) once told me that magic is magic, it can be either white or black depending on whose hands it’s in.

Bless all the healers.



ps. Incredible no mention of Damanhur yet on the blog. Any thoughts anyone?
This place trumps the fof on the art octave! Truly incredible and worth a click on your keypad.
Is it also a cult? Looks like…smells like…

"Shelley M." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 27, 2007:
Re: Thomas E. [Thomas Easley]

I spent a full seven years in the fof [Fellowship of Friends] without knowing a peep about RB’s [Robert Burton's] exploitation of the boys. It was a magical time. I had many dinners with him, drove him and the boys around Manhattan and was generally responsible for his navigation of that great city from 1976 until I moved to London in 1981. I also experienced many, many coincidences and synchronicities on my own and in the presence of RB. What to say?

I remember the mixed emotional messages I always got from Molly M., Frank A. [directors of the Fellowship's New York center] and many more of the more upstanding and self contained citizens of the fof from that era who ALL KNEW FULL WELL WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH ROBERT! ‘Mature’, ‘responsible’ center directors/traveling teachers types WHO WERE SELF CONTROLLED ENOUGH TO KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT ABOUT IT. They appeared to be your garden variety upper/middle, middle class people , the perfect poster children who looked like they would be OUTRAGED if indeed they knew such information about our leader! In retrospect it was a little club within the club. I wish more of them would speak on the blog.

When I married Thomas in 1981 I had no idea he had lived this nightmare. None of my ‘girlfriends’ enlightened me and he never spoke about it. I saw only a hard working super energetic young man.

So, blogging on it all now I am more and more amazed at the silence. I already wrote about how I Linda T. [Linda Kaplan/Linda Tulisso] enlightened me about RB in ’82. (Will reprint it if anyone’s interested. I think it’s on pg.11 or something like that.)

I also already wrote about how RB DID apologize to Thomas, in my presence, over the phone in 1985. (I think that was my first post on pg. 6)

I never read the 1989 letter from Thomas until it was posted on the blog a few days ago. I divorced him in 1987. I knew about the letter but could not bear to hear the details. I read it now with the distance of time and life experience.

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