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, August 15, 2007

A personal farewell

[ed. - With the author's permission, the following is reprinted from the Greater Fellowship website.]
Occasionally, people have asked for "my story." I prefer posting my farewell letter of a year ago rather than, as the Hungarian saying goes, "chewing my cabbage twice":
Girard Haven, Fellowship of Friends cult leader, Oregon House, CA

Girard Haven, "Conscious Being"

August 14/15, 2007

Dear Friend,

For nearly eight years, I was the wife of a "conscious being." I witnessed the man I loved in grave psycho-spiritual decline. What happened to him is a tragedy. But what followed taught me a great deal about the organization of which I had been a member for 28 years.

My requests for help met buck-passing, denial, and rebuff; I was effectively silenced. The organization continued to enable and market this deeply troubled man for its own fundraising purposes. It is apparent that a few decision-makers know the truth, but the top priority is that the show must go on. Clearly, after this experience, it was time to go back to the drawing board, and reexamine everything I knew and had believed.
When confronted with a lie of this magnitude, and the way it was managed by the organization, it's a reasonable assumption that you haven't stumbled across the only deception, or the biggest one. It would be facile to say I "uncovered" pandemic abuse, cowardice, dishonesty, and corruption – but perhaps they had always been in front of my face. Perhaps I merely stopped buffering them as side-issues. Certainly some situations have worsened over the years. In any case, I saw that vices and fraud are sanctioned at the top, imitated by others, and now inextricably entwined in the organizational DNA.
It's one thing to tolerate these abuses for free. It's another to finance them. Our checkbooks give assent and approval, as well as enabling their perpetuation.

Should I describe them in more detail, you would dismiss them as exaggerations. You would euphemize and excuse these facts as peripheral to a Grand Central Truth, as I once did. "Being present" is used as a drug to buffer accountability, which necessarily occurs over time.

Hence, I don't know what to say anymore that might reach you. If I mention what I learned from my personal experiences, you will dismiss me as unable to transform." If I am emotional at all, you will accuse me of being "in the queens." If I am not emotional, I will be in my king of clubs, or my "lower self," or whatever the current jargon is. If I refer to any standard of decent human behavior that has held through all centuries in all societies, you will dismiss it reductively as "feminine dominance" or "morality I's." I hunt for words so that I won't, as I am leaving, trigger associations that you will characterize as "the same old thing" – knowing you will refuse to consider that "the same old thing" might simply be the stubborn truth, and that's why it persistently resurfaces. And if all else fails, the "worse for me if I am right." Clearly, I won't be heard. However, that does not absolve me of the obligation to speak. It does not exonerate my obligation to apologize.

I ask your forgiveness for my complicity, even as a spokeswoman for this organization. I ask your pardon for my own culpability in the spiritual destruction of so many others. My life has miraculously recovered, emotionally and spiritually, beyond anything I have merited – I earnestly wish the same remarkable regeneration for each of you.

What Gurdjieff calls "objective remorse" is not painless – but I promise that once you swallow the bitter pill, clarity follows. Have courage, and you will attract the help you need. On the other side of the anguish, grief, and fear, you will find gratitude, too – gratitude that you faced the truth even if it's five minutes before your death, rather than five seconds after. I intend to spend my remaining time on this earth pursuing more diligently than ever the aims that brought me here.

I cannot say farewell, because my door remains open to you. I accept that yours may not be. Others have been patient with me; I will be patient with you. Above all, I am not trying to sell you anything.

Keep your eyes open. Don't take any wooden nickels. Tell the truth. Listen to your conscience. Vaya con Dios(n., sing.)



"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

[ed. - Girard Haven appears as "Humpty Dumpty" in the Apollo Performing Arts presentation of "Alice in Wonderland".]

[ed. - The following is a different take on complicity.]

"Charles T" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 17, 2007:

I was a member for 27 years. I joined in London, quickly moved into the teaching house, did everything I could to enable myself to move to the U.S. Married an FoF student. Moved to Apollo/Isis after a few years. Built a large house there, designed by a FoF architect. At different times I was a center director, council member, traveling teacher, led prospective student meetings at which people joined the FoF. In other words, the whole disaster including the postage.

I was never involved in Burton’s inner circle and had only a sketchy knowledge of what went on there. I read Troy Buzbee’s letter and heard some strange rumours, but I was reassured by people I respected that it was all OK, the rumours were exaggerated, everything was consensual, there was a lot of love involved, and I believed what I was told, and in turn reassured others.

I was very committed to awakening. I sincerely believed that Burton was a conscious being. I did pretty much everything that was suggested (couldn’t give up rock music though!). I tried very hard to remember myself year after year. When I was leading meetings I tried to be honest and only describe what I’d actually experienced, or make it clear if I was speaking theoretically.

I admired the FoF leaders very much: Peter B, Girard, Collin, they all seemed wonderful, spiritually advanced people. In fact pretty much everyone I met was sincere, thoughtful, kind, admirable.

After Peter’s death and Girard’s stroke a new set of leaders took over, much more harsh and intolerant, people for whom I had little respect. I began to withdraw. Around the same time Alison became influential and the emphasis on collecting money, money, ever more money became overwhelming. Burton’s teaching became more and more bizarre. The Fourth Way was abandoned. Nothing of any substance took its place.

Eventually I left, principally because it became clear to me that Burton is not a conscious being, in fact he’s no different from you or me, and his teaching is a sham. I didn’t leave because of his private life, though the stories became increasingly disturbing and believable.

So am I a bad person because I supported the FoF for so long? Personally I don’t think so. I did the best I could. I was mistaken about Burton but it was a genuine mistake. I learned a lot in the FoF and I’ve moved on. It’s happening to hundreds of us now. Personally I don’t think we have any reason to look back and wring our hands.

[ed. - And a different perspective on complicity...]

"Old Fish In The Sea" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 16, 2007:
I’m not religious but …

If I have one prayer tonight, it is that I will learn to see what is wrong in my life, and have the courage to stand up against it, or at least remove myself from its influence.

Samual S., Miles, Joel, Dale and Pamela O., Dennis and Elena L., Marty A., Stephen W., Patrick and Susan T., Charles R., James T., James B., Sandra C. and so many others – so many of the most sincere, talented and intelligent people left and I was hardly curious.

From some I received letters. I read them, they penetrated, even hurt, some even made me wonder, even physically shake, but soon I buffered the message and returned to my comfort, returned to supporting the FOF and Robert. Incredible! It is hard to fathom that my buffers were so impenetrable.

Then there was the Buzbee letter. 1984, 1998 even 2006. My own experiences of betrayal. So many chances to leave.

Shocking and sad that I did not have the confidence or strength to give my perceptions the space they needed but instead shoved them aside, holding strong to my shaky FOF worldview. Shocking and sad that I watched Robert and his entourage day after day, knowing what that implied, with no real effort to help clean it up or even to quit supporting it.

Sad that I buffered so deeply the many cult behaviours and the poor judgement from the teacher. Even sadder that the buffering was sometimes called transformation.
And if anyone spoke about it, I nervously looked down or tried to help them buffer like me. I did not want to speak about it for long.

What good is our intelligence if we can’t use it to make things better?

What if we could have cleaned up the FOF and put it back in householder – brought balance, honesty, frugality, decency, fairness, love, and simplicity? I know many tried. I don’t think it was possible. I sincerely believe the dream was too strong and too prevalent and we were mostly afraid of Robert, afraid of being asked to leave the FOF, humiliated and expelled.

I have paid dearly for my inability to leave the FOF. Robert’s karma somehow extends to all of us that supported it and who were known to be associated with it, and it continues to affect some of my business relations. I saw this clearly today. We truly are judged, to some degree, by the company we keep.

If I have one prayer tonight, it is that I will learn to see what is wrong in my life and have the courage to stand up against it or at least remove myself from its influence.

Best wishes to all,

Old Fish

1 comment:

  1. After the Citizenship and Immigration Services visited the FOF which resulted in a halt to the religious visa program, Girard (the head of the "Fellowship Order" - as it's legally a church) made a single exception to that and brought his new (at the time, future) wife over on a religious visa in 2008. She (Annamaria Szvoboda) re-posted some of his thoughts on Asaf's Ggurdjieff website.