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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2001 Renaissance Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba

[ed. - From Vinography: a wine blog]

Every time I review a wine from some little producer whose wines I adore, I experience a pang of regret, because I know that by writing about these wineries and their wines, I only make them more expensive and harder to acquire for myself (and others). I do occasionally get e-mails from ticked off wine lovers bemoaning the fact that I've divulged one of their secret sources for great wine.

But that's just an occupational hazard for me, and doesn't outweigh the joy of being able to say things like this: Listen up people. There is some seriously amazing wine being made in a little out-of-the-way place in the northernmost part of California's Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticultural Area). At the hands of soft-spoken resident winemaker Gideon Bienstock [Beinstock], Renaissance Vineyards is making small lots of Bordeaux and Northern Rhone style wines that are pretty much unlike any other wines being made in California -- in a really good way.

Renaissance Vineyards is not some upstart young winery that is pioneering new things in a new region. Rather, they are more like a wild-eyed hermit, that disappeared into the mountains years ago to live in the valley that he believed was the promised land, showing up in town every once in a while for supplies. Some people have known about them for years, but for others, the idea of a winery out in the middle of nowhere, CA elicits the scratching of heads.

German winemaker Dr. Karl Werner discovered the vineyard potential of the steep hillsides of the North Yuba river valley in the upper reaches of what was not even yet the Sierra Foothills AVA. It was not until 1987 that the appellation of the Sierra Foothills came into existence, and by then Renaissance Vineyards had been making wine for 8 years.

Just how Renaissance Vineyards and Dr. Karl Werner starting making wine in North Yuba is quite a unique story for a California winery.

In 1971 an organization known as The Fellowship of Friends, already well established at that time, purchased nearly 1300 acres in North Yuba County in the Sierra Foothills. The Fellowship of Friends was, and continues to be, a religious organization that many regard as a cult, built around the charismatic founder Robert Earl Burton who serves as the spiritual teacher of the organization. Its members tithe 10% of their gross monthly income to the organization, which has used those funds since the mid Seventies to completely transform this land into a spiritual retreat for the organization. One that also happens to have a very large, very impressive vineyard.

The group didn't set out to have a vineyard to begin with, but one of its early disciples was a man named Dr. Karl Werner, who in addition to being a devotee of the spiritual teachings of the organization, also happened to be a very accomplished winemaker back in his home country of Germany. Apparently on his first visit to the Fellowship's property, he recognized the potential for grape growing, and his enthusiasm for the project, as well as the attraction of the craft itself, convinced the organization to undertake a vineyard development project that lasted several years -- clearing, terracing, and planting the hillsides with vines. The first harvest took place in the fall of 1979.

Today the organization continues to own the vineyard, but is perhaps less involved than it was in the past. Dr. Werner passed away in 1989, just after the winery's first commercial release, and after being run for a time by Dr. Werner's wife Diana, winemaking operations were turned over in 1994 to Gideon Bienstock who has spent the last 13 years transforming Renaissance Winery from a broad, almost experimental winery, to a more focused winery with a clearer vision of what it wants to accomplish.

Dr. Werner's vision was originally for a winery that combined the best of the Bordeaux and the German traditions, which meant that a lot of Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling were planted to start. Over time, Bienstock discovered that Rhone varietals performed particularly well, and now the winery focuses primarily on Bordeaux and Northern Rhone varietals. In addition to "learning the terroir" as he puts it, Bienstock has gradually increased the focus of the winery, reducing yields, reducing production, phasing out the use of commercial yeasts, pump-overs, fining, filtration, sulfur use, and cold stabilization. In addition he has moved the winery to 100% organic viticulture, and has introduced some Biodynamic farming techniques in the most recent vintages.

If you ask him, even after 13 years of winemaking, and nearly 20 years of experience in the Sierra Foothills, Bienstock will tell you that he is still figuring out the terroir of the area, which he believes to be quite possibly the most remarkable of any in California. But as someone who has been tasting the wines pretty regularly for the past few years, I can tell you he's had it dialed in now for some time.

"Some time" means at least since 1995, only a year after he took over as full-time winemaker, and the year of one of the winery's current releases. Not content to be the sole winery in what is now its own North Yuba AVA, under Bienstock's leadership Renaissance is defying all the common sense of traditional winery marketing and release schedules. To wit: this 2001 wine is their current release, and several other of their current releases date back into the 1990s.

The only other winery in California that I know of which approaches this sort of delayed release program is Kalin Cellars, whose current releases are typically aged about 10 to 12 years. To any normal winery, such delayed release dates would be financial suicide, but Renaissance vineyards has never operated like a normal commercial business.

Leaving aside the financial and operational considerations, such a move takes guts, and a particular vision for what your wines can be and ought to be. From Bienstock's perspective, it's a simple question -- he lets the wines tell him when they're ready. "We originally scheduled the release of our '95 Cab to be around 2004 or 2005 but the wine was still completely "dormant" and did not cooperate with that idea, so we had to postpone it until 2008," he says.

This sort of intuition and old world thinking pervades Bienstock's winemaking, resulting in wines that are strikingly unique in character and personality, not to mention long-lived. The winery currently has two sets of releases, those older wines that it has chosen this year to release, and more current vintages that follow a more traditional release schedule. Both are exceptional in quality, and worth the time and effort required to seek them out.

Most wines undergo very long fermentations, the reds in open-top oak fermenters with frequent hand punchdowns, the whites in stainless steel. Oak aging, which some of the late harvest wines receive as well, is done primarily in a combination of French and American oak between 1 and 5 years old. Some of the top reds are aged for up to 30 months in barrel before bottling.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of cherries, lilacs, and cedar aromas. In the mouth it is incredibly aromatic, with soaring flavors of cherry, cedar, floral notes and hints of darker deeper earth and leather. Muscled, suede-soft tannins hug the palate and linger as the wine finishes in a resonant way. Excellent.

Food Pairing:
Relatively low in alcohol with wonderful acidity this wine will pair well with lots of things. I'd be utterly content drinking it with slow braised beef short ribs over polenta.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $45

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"What You Should Know About Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends"

Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends cult leader New York fundraising event
Robert Earl Burton in Fellowship of Friends fundraising ad

  “In particular, if he [Robert Earl Burton] knows what he is doing and we don’t, we have no basis for judging or doubting him. Instead, we simply have to trust him, as a child trusts his parents, or a dog trusts its master. If he asks us to do things which seem to have no connection to awakening–or even to be ‘wrong’–we have no choice but to do them anyway.” - Girard Haven, Creating a Soul, page 576

"What You Should Know About Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
  • It’s a doomsday cult. 
  • The predicted doomsday never came. 
  • Burton predicted major catastrophes for 1984 and 1998, and then nuclear war for 2006. For decades, he predicted the Fellowship of Friends would become the beginning of a new civilization in 2006. 
  • Through cognitive dissonance, followers try to forget the above predictions, or downplay them. 
  • Like other cults, followers are uncomfortable with labels such as “cult,” calling it a “pejorative” term, or insisting that it’s “misleading.” But there’s no better one-word description for this organization in the English language. 
  • Burton has coerced and seduced several hundred young followers — and perhaps thousands — into having sex with him, using promises of spiritual salvation, expensive gifts, and vacations abroad. As a result, many former and current followers have suffered lasting psychological scars and emotional trauma, and a few have committed suicide. (Read the numerous personal accounts within this web log.) 
  • Burton is a sociopath and malignant narcissist who shows no concern for the welfare of his followers unless they are useful to him in some way. When they cease to be useful to him, he discards them.
  • Burton’s “public” persona is one of a gentle guru who speaks with a soft voice. This personality helps him hypnotize his followers into believing they have found the one truth path to enlightenment, salvation, and heaven.
  • Burton tells his followers that 44 angels, or gods, guide the Fellowship of Friends — and that they guide only the Fellowship of Friends. Angels, he says, do not guide anyone else on earth. 
  • Burton advances a world view that Hell exists, and that there’s only one way to avoid going to Hell when one dies: Join the Fellowship of Friends, and stay in the Fellowship of Friends until your death. All people on earth who do not join the Fellowship of Friends will go to Hell when they die. Likewise, followers are warned that they will go to Hell if they leave the cult. 
  • Followers are discouraged or forbidden from communicating with former members. Those who leave the cult will lose contact with their closest friends within the cult. 
  • Followers are forbidden to discuss any of the above. If they do discuss these facts with their friends, or question anyone about these facts, they will be expelled. This in turn fosters secrecy and lack of transparency within the cult. 
  • People outside the cult who try to provide the above information to followers within it are intimidated or threatened with legal retaliation, much like the Scientology cult. 
  • Burton charges exorbitant membership fees – anywhere from 20% to 40% of income, depending on a person’s salary. The full amount of these fees is never discussed when representatives try to sell people on joining the cult.
  • The fees have helped pay for Burton’s extravagant lifestyle, which includes expensive clothing, frequent expensive vacations, and a lavish home at the cult’s compound in Oregon House, California (between Grass Valley and Yuba City). 
  • Burton and the Fellowship of Friends have been sued by former members on multiple occasions. Most of these suits have been settled out of court, with insurance companies paying the settlement on behalf of the Fellowship of Friends. 
  • Burton founded the cult in 1970. For more than three decades, he characterized the cult as a so-called “Fourth Way school.” In recent years, the cult has virtually abandoned any discussions about the Fourth Way. 
  • Because the Fellowship of Friends (also referred to as Pathway to Presence)[ed. - now "Living Presence"] has been granted religious status, American taxpayers help pay for this cult. 
  • In the last four years, several hundred followers have left the Fellowship of Friends, and many followers continue to leave. It’s believed that slightly over 1,000 members remain worldwide, but reliable statistics are not publicly available.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Queen of the Night* moonlights in forensics

* From Mozart's much-beloved opera "The Magic Flute", of course.

[ed. - "Daily Cardiac's" instruction inspired the following video:]

[ed. - In a move reminiscent of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey anonymously trolling on Yahoo! forums to bash his competitor, former Fellowship of Friends President, Linda Kaplan , formerly Linda Tulisso, has been defending the "Church's honor" on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, posting as "Daily Cardiac". Here Cardiac applies her scientific acumen to utterly demolish the damning testimonies of "ex-FOFers." The following post led to a riot of observations about not only her ignorance, but also her lack of "a certain experience." This is a true gem.]
"Daily Cardiac" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Moderator – 219: “Please share with us some of the “so many fictions”. I’m quite curious”
ton – 220: “it’s good of you to be so concerned with the welfare of ex-members… now i’ll take my tongue from my cheek and ask you a question: would you give some examples of the “many fictions and make up stro[r]ies that never took place…"
Ames – 223: “If you can indeed identify the ‘so many fictions and make up stories from direct personal knowledge’, I strongly encourage you to go right ahead.”
What’s “curious”, to quote the Moderator, or perhaps “curiouser” to quote LC [Lewis Carroll], is the interest in wanting to hear about what Someone [blog poster] has to say about “fictions” making their way to the blog.
For one thing I’d have to take the interest indicated in the above quotes as being facetious or sarcastic in nature rather than sincere; as no ex member on this blog has ever weighed (at least not over the blog) the correctness or truthfulness of any comment by anyone being remotely tolerant or supportive of the FoF/RB. Forget about agreeing with the comments, they have not been admitted on any level as being credible or even possible.
It can be assumed that in the entire 87 pages of the blog not one opponent of FoF/RB has ever admitted or acknowledged that any supporter’s comments were true or valid if the supporter’s comments were expressing something positive or favorable. I have not read every single posting, but in the many I have read I have not encountered such an occurrence. It could be further stated that all positive or favorable postings about FoF/RB have been refuted or dismissed by one or more opponents as an out right lie or a delusional comment. And out of all the negative or unfavorable postings by ex members not once has an FoF opponent ever disputed or disagreed with the findings of another opponent. [ed. - this is far from true.]
Another way of stating this is that according to ex member testimony all negative or unfavorable postings about RB are true, and all favorable or positive postings by current members or supporters are false. If one simply considers the pure mathematics of it one would conclude that the odds of this being the case are pretty slim. If anyone uncovers an exchange between opponent and supporter here that would disprove this supposition please post it.
What’s interesting in this latest instance is that Someone is also an ex member who, by his or her own account, has no interest in going back to the FoF or supporting RB but only dared to point something out to Bruce regarding the zealous nature of his comments after being out of the organization for close to 30 years, and concluding that there was a certain level of obsession going on. And actually Someone, as I read their post, was not being difficult or demeaning in any way but was coming from a place of trying to offer an honest observation.
Bruce, being Bruce, dismissed Someone’s contentions that he or she, based on Bruce’s own postings, could actually perceive legitimate insights into Bruce’s reality. But Bruce and several others make this claim on a daily basis about my reality, as well as the realities of anyone they disagree with.
So my question to others is – does this apparent contradiction bother anyone else? If as Bruce contends Someone cannot draw accurate insights from what he says how is it possible that Bruce and others claim to do precisely this on a routine basis? This seems to be the stuff of fiction to me.
But it is typical of many posters here to recoil from any hint of error in judgment or misinformation on their part; which, contrary to their beliefs, does not lend more credence to their contributions but only stamps them as being inflexible and delusional with regard to their own beliefs.
Regarding Someone’s assertions about fictions on the blog; obviously anything he or she proposes could be contested just like anything said in opposition of FoF can be contested. As I’ve said numerous times nothing written here can be either proved or disproved; this is the case for blogs in general. And any statement can be contested or sanctioned.
I would offer one example of a fiction, and a glaring one at that.
This regards a comment by A.T. some time ago. A.T. commented that she was seated next to RB at a Salon dinner and detected the smell of semen on his breath as he leaned over to speak to her. She further stated that he must have performed fellatio on a student immediately before entering the Salon.
This posting was one of the most lauded and praised comments at the time and actually it is one of the easiest to expose as being bogus in nature. The reason it is so transparently fictitious is because in order for it to be true laws of physics would have to be broken.
First of all semen is not toxic or a waste matter and hence gives off no strong odor. In fact it contains half of the Life Force and as such is the most refined fluid in the human organism. It contains no airborne aromatic properties, unlike many herbs or other plants/flowers, minerals, compounds.
If an open container of semen would have been placed on the dining table it could not have been easily detected by smell, if at all. But the real truth can be drawn from the fact that semen is immediately broken down by acids and enzymes found in saliva and any traces of it would have been dissolved within a few seconds.
Yet A. T. would have us believe that after every one was seated at the table and after a 15 minute concert was performed and the time it took for the food to arrive (which does produce strong aromas) and a toast proposed, and somewhat later, probably after a few bites of food were taken, as Robert leaned over and spoke to A she was taken aback with the undeniable smell of semen on his breath.
This is just one fiction, made evident by laws of physics. Many other examples are just as evident because they bypass laws of reason and probability, but those laws being more abstract are more easily dismissed by an unreasoned mind.
The chief fiction on the blog is that the FoF is a destructive cult and RB a charlatan. Of course it can’t be proved or disproved on this blog, and the truth or falsity of it can only be verified on a personal level.
It’s a spiritual matter and can only be known on an earthly plane by those who rise up to a state of cognition where spiritual matters can be distinguished and separated from earthly matters.
I’ll admit it’s tempting for people to think they can determine with surety just what an organization that claims to be spiritual in nature really is or is not.
But there are only two ways (that I know) to distinguish the spiritual from the earthly: By raising one’s state to the level where one can be in communion with spirit matter or by waiting until one’s death when spirit matter in us is separated from our bodies and we are shown many realities previously mysterious to us.
But in any event one day we will all know everything there is to know about RB and FoF.
[ed. - If "Daily Cardiac" can be so wrong about semen, do you think she could possibly be wrong about the other "fictions"? For more lessons from "Daily Cardiac," see "'Daily Cardiac' helps us understand consensual sex."]
Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Earl Burton and Linda Kaplan top lieutenant
Since 1971, Linda Kaplan has been devoted to Robert Earl Burton. Burton calls her one of "The Three Graces."