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.")

But 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.

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 from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated) Fellowship Wikipedia page, 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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cathie L.'s story

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 9, 2015:
[Quoting] #10 Robert Stoltze
“Would any of you ever have thought twice about joining the FoF if you hadn’t experimented with psychotropic substances?”
I joined when I was 27, but my “magnetic center” or interest in things spiritual (wanting to know what was behind the veil of everyday reality, wanting to understand who I am, wanting to evolve, fulfill my human potential, etc. etc.) began long before that, and had nothing to do with drug experimentation. I did very little of that in college (none before that), only occasionally getting high when a joint was going around at parties, or hanging out with roommates after a day of classes and studying.

But the “magnetic center” was in me before all that. I remember clearly a childhood experience of being upset for some trivial reason, running to my room in tears, and sobbing into my pillow, when suddenly I was filled with a soft, glowing golden light, a presence clearly felt, a comforting feeling that I was loved and protected, and all would be well.

Whether this was something external that entered me, or something intrinsic to my own being, seems unimportant. It was there, I experienced it in a moment of spontaneous grace, and it has been with me ever since (not always so clearly!) I knew then that there was something unseen behind appearance of things, and I wanted to know more about it.

Another key turned in the lock when I was in high school, walking home one beautiful spring afternoon after hearing a talk given by an astrologer. (Heaven knows how this talk came to be presented at our straight-laced, conservative high school, but nevertheless….) As I walked down the street pondering the idea that the sun, moon and planets could affect us psychologically, it was as if a door opened up in my awareness. “Of course they can!” I realized. At that moment the sun seemed brighter, the air softer, the smell of the roses more sweet. Another spontaneous moment of expanded consciousness, having nothing to do with drugs.

So you see, I already wanted to learn more about these kinds of ideas and states. In college, I changed my major from English to Psychology. I read Freud, Jung, Adler, Perls, Ram Dass, Alan Watts, all the heavies. I joined an extracurricular “consciousness raising” discussion group. I was a seeker.

In 1978, I lived in a farmhouse in Santa Barbara with several roommates. One of them, with whom I shared an interest in astrology, mentioned casually that she was involved in a group that taught the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, whom I had never heard of. I questioned her about the group and its ideas, and after several discussions, I was intrigued, and went to a prospective student meeting. Book titles like “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution” and “In Search of the Miraculous” grabbed my interest right away. You know the rest. I didn’t have to think twice.

So this is why it seems such a crime for anyone to take advantage of these youthful, compelling, entirely human yearnings, and distort and pervert them to serve something else. It took me 7 years to “wake up,” but I did wake up.

And the process continues. All euphorias are temporary. No state is permanent. Enlightenment is overrated.

Here and now then, here and now.

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 31, 2015:
Re: #28 “Denial of Death” article

In the fall of 1979, I was asked to move from Santa Barbara to the Chicago center, located in the small town of Ravinia, on the shore of Lake Michigan. I still remember that time in vivid flashes, now and again.

The house was spectacular, a grand old midwestern mansion with a formal dining room, gigantic kitchen, a grand staircase, library, servant’s quarters and attic. There was a vast basement with ancient plumbing and a decrepit heater that barely kept the place warm, consuming oil by the truckload (steam heat). One poor student’s sleeping quarters were down there, near the noisy beast!

The rest of us were crammed into every habitable nook and cranny of the house, from the attic to the servant’s quarters. My assigned room when I arrived was an upstairs “sun porch,” no doubt fine in summer, but a barren icebox in winter. After toughing it out for a few weeks, I begged for another room, and was offered the floor of a very large closet in the master suite’s dressing area. I gratefully unrolled my sleeping bag there each night for the duration of my stay.

Not that any of us had much time for sleeping. Most of us were working two jobs to meet the rent, utilities, food and teaching payments, as well as paying for elaborate “traveling teacher” dinners and other incidentals that arose. In the cold early mornings, some of us would walk to the train station and ride into Chicago together, often meeting up again late that night for the trip home.

I remember one train ride in particular, at the end of a long day’s work at my two jobs, as a proofreader at Ernst & Whinney, followed by a part-time night job at Northern Trust Bank, typing crop reports. I had brought a book to read with me on the train, probably inspired by one of the little “daily cards,” bearing a quotation from a “conscious being,” that were given out each week.

My book was Plato’s Five Great Dialogues, and I was reading “Phaedo.” I remember having the sensation of my mind being drawn up into a higher plane of thought, feeling the clarity and power of the ancient philosopher’s words reaching me across time and space. The existence of the soul was assumed. The light of the mind was self-evident. I felt the connection. At the time I considered it a “higher state,” and I still do.

So there’s a little gratitude story here, one of the finer moments in my life that happened as a result of the efforts of my fellow friends in the ‘ship…the ones who typeset and printed those daily cards on the hand presses, the ones who established the far-flung teaching houses and worked to “create memory” for each other, who walked with me along the snow covered streets of Ravinia in the deep winter nights….a reminiscence sing.

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 29, 2015:
How I Left the School and Got a Life

In 1984-85, I was working at a law office in Marysville. One of the attorneys there was working with the FOF on defending the suit that had been been filed by Sanders et al. I had access to privileged information, depositions, by which I learned what had “allegedly” been going on at the Blake Cottage/Galleria. I put “allegedly” in quotes because it was intuitively clear to me that these allegations were true.

I had lived in the Court of the Caravans in the late 1970s, before the Blake Cottage was torn down. I remember seeing young male students walking back and forth from the cottage on the road to the Lincoln Lodge, or outside my caravan window, cutting across the field in the small hours of the morning. At the time I thought nothing of it, but when I read the depositions, one of which was by a man I personally knew, it all started to fall into place. Prior to that, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I remember thinking what a hypocrite Robert was, with all anti-infrasex exercises like “no sex before marriage” and “no relationships for one year after ending one.” I had thought he was celibate! Poor little fool, oh yeah, I was a fool, oh yeah.

I left in 1985, around the time MB [Miles Barth] left. I moved to the Bay Area where my parents had a home; I hadn’t severed all ties with them, fortunately. I got a job at a law firm in San Francisco, where another FOF student happened to work. Thank goodness for networking!

[Coincidentally with post #47 about the failed rocket launch today, I was working at this San Francisco law firm when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986. I remember the employees assembling in the conference room to watch the newscast, and the sense of deep sorrow and shock I felt, especially about Christa McAuliffe’s death. Another story….]

MB held a large meeting for former students around that time (late 1985- early 1986?) He spoke to the group about his reasons for leaving, but I can’t recall what he said. Maybe what he said was, “I’m not going to talk about my reasons for leaving.” [ed. - Exactly.]

He announced that he intended to start a series of small groups if anyone was interested, to continue discussing the Fourth Way ideas that he felt had value, whatever could be salvaged from the wreckage, I guess. He seemed to want to continue teaching. I signed up for the groups and went to several meetings at MB’s apartment in San Francisco. This was extremely valuable to me as a way of processing the departure from the cult and maintaining some kind of connection with ideas I still believed were useful, and with people who shared an interest in them. Eventually I moved on.

In the mid-1990s, Stella started an email group for former members on a listserv (some of you Internet old-timers may remember what a listserv is!) There was a lot of material “processed” there as well. One project that grew out of Stella’s list was a chapbook of poetry by list members. It was called Virtual Exposure. I still have a copy of it. In 1995, someone from the toadhall list published a directory, with names, former names, and addresses, an interesting bit of FOF history and memorabilia, which I also still have.

Ames wrote above (#24): “We also admitted that, though we had new friends, they were few and far between, and even fewer with which one could have a conversation like we were having right then and at the level of what we felt we were communicating.”

That’s true for me too. You had to be there to really understand it. The ties run deep. Maybe that’s something many former cult members, and perhaps soldiers, survivors of concentration camps and other shared trauma, have in common.

"Robert Stolzle" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 23, 2015:
I enjoyed reading Cathie L.’s post in #32 because I am personally still wanting to understand how the FoF devolved into the mess so many people posting here (and in the past) experienced. I found her historical account interesting. How do you think YOU WERE CHOSEN, Cathie? And what did you do in Ravinia besides work? The group I left still seemed to have the potential to help people. But “it is an ill wind that blows no one any good”, too. Humans are constantly trying to put a positive spin on their faults and travails. The accounts of how cancer helps people never end.

It seems postings here have covered most all the methods of creating “mystical experiences” already. That doesn’t diminish their personal relevance. Native American’s vision quests involved hunger and fatigue; isn’t it likely, Cathie, that your Plato experience came from that? I am sure that many of the FoF students’ higher experiences came from the fatigue and sleep deprivation of the “36 hour work octave”. I suspect this technique was built into the Fourth Way and the truth that, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn.” is the objective reality that has kept the FoF going all these years.

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 1, 2015:

I wasn’t chosen, I volunteered when they asked if anyone would be willing to relocate to the Chicago center. Or did you mean how did I ever imagine I was “chosen” to receive the help of C-Influence in a conscious Fourth Way school? Someone probably told me that, and it sounded good to me, romantic dingbat that I was.

I don’t remember doing much else in Chicago besides work and sleep. Museum trips? Socializing with my fellow “slaving overpaying cult members”? Sure, probably. I was only there for one winter, then it was back to California to join the slaving, practically unpaid cult members in the Renaissance office.

You might say that fatigue and hunger were involved in my experience on the train, but that would only be part of the story. I’ve been tired and hungry before and since, and not had mystical experiences. Maybe it was the rhythmic motion of the train (“out of the cradle, endlessly rocking”), and the repetitive sound of the wheels on the tracks, like a shamanic drumbeat lulling me into a trance. Maybe it was my desire to have a mystical experience, to taste Truth and consciously participate in the Great Mystery of being, to know why I am here, the nature of the soul, what happens when we die.

Maybe it was all a dream, signifying nothing. Maybe we’re all bozos on this bus. Maybe everything you know is wrong.

Maybe I found an acorn.


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