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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Holy Hell

[ed. - Premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival was a documentary about the relatively small (in comparison to The Fellowship of Friends) Buddhafield cult. It was filmed and directed by former member Will Allen. Here is an interview with Allen: Holy Hell. (I recommend reading the entire interview.)

This Vanity Fair article reveals a cult of personality, similar to that seen in Robert Burton and the Fellowship (and to which Asaf Braverman appears to aspire.) The cult indoctrination process is virtually identical.

The same confusion, anger, and shame expressed by Buddhafield victims has been echoed by many of Robert Burton's victims over the years. There's a conversation about the film on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion.

One of the more notable similarities is how ex-Buddhafield and ex-Fellowship members perceive their groups as having begun as noble undertakings that only after many years degenerated into something quite the opposite. "jomopinata" describes this as "the dominant myth."]

Friday, January 1, 2016

Kids say the darnedest things

indigo indigocharm Fellowship of Friends abuse children cult
[ed. - For many adolescents, relationships with their parents can be strained. But when your parents are members of a cult, it is even more complicated. In these essays from over six years ago, "Masha" provides a fascinating perspective on living with parents who also happen to be Fellowship of Friends members. See also this related post: Children's Stories]

"...on the outside, the whole thing seems like a pleasant upper-class philosophical group. But that's bullshit."

"IndigoCharm" wrote on the DeviantArt website, January 16, 2009:
'The Fellowship of Friends' cult

by IndigoCharm
Jan 16, 2009, 2:58:01 AM


Having no other blog to type this on, and wanting people to know about it, I will type it here--- since I guess writing very honestly about something could be considered writerly skill, and I suppose that qualifies as art.

The Fellowship of Friends -- also known as the School -- is a "school of thought" my parents got introduced to when I was around 10 or 11. While I was not old enough to join, over the years I got pulled into it somewhat, and plenty brainwashed from even that contact, to the point where I knew a good amount of their terminology and beliefs and actually followed them somewhat, with my parents' sort of detached encouragement (I have to add, my parents are pretty detached from me and the rest of the world in the first place, and the Fellowship just enforced that).

When I first started living with my parents in third grade, I found them to be very obsessed with finding Something Higher, if that makes sense -- they read Castaneda obsessively and went to Mexico to take peyote, the [sic] such. But eventually, they got tired of this and found something new. They started talking obsessively about the Enneagram, a system for classifying people, perhaps not originally invented by the Fellowship, but elaborated and made into a strict guideline of Human Types. At 10, I thought this was something like astrology -- you know, like the Chinese zodiac -- and since I was interested, they gave me a book of theirs on the subject. We often sat in the living room identifying people we know, with my parents usually criticizing them. My parents told me I'm a Jovial-Lunar (the types were named after planets) -- Lunars were considered "doughy," pale, thin and light haired, antisocial, and morbid; Jovials were fat and flamboyant. They also had sub-types, named after card figures -- Jacks were primitive, narrow-minded personalities, Queens were dramatic and "most likely to commit murders and kill their children" (what I was classified as), and Kings were altruistic and perfect.

I soon found that my parents took this classification system quite seriously. At that age, I started getting into many fights with them -- at least 3 per day -- and when faced with me saying -- anything, really, it seems -- they would fold their arms defensively and angrily and say that I am "acting from my Queen of Hearts center". If the fight continued, it got a lot worse and I won't go into that bit. I tried running away a couple of times, but I never had the guts to, well, finish.

At that point, I think they started paying more money to the School (it was the duty of a good Student) and we got to being fairly poor. They also got obsessed with the idea of "being conscious" and "present" -- they called the regular people, ones not in the School, "Machines". As I said, I got brainwashed just as much, and since I was naive enough to want to be liked by my parents and be a Good Daughter (despite at the same time hating them), I made a strong effort to "stay present" and was full of a sort of inward sneering at the Sleeping Machines (i.e. everyone else). I, like my parents, believed in omens of good and bad, messages regarding my progress to the higher self.

They had different exercises for every week (or maybe it was month) to increase their consciousness -- sitting with feet flat on the floor, eating a certain way, not being allowed to eat certain things, listening only to Classical Music. I got really sick of hearing Mozart's "The Magic Flute" playing. [ed. - Many Fellowship members may have experienced a similar response!]
They would spend the little money we had on wine and nice food to take to Atlanta every Sunday, to the cult meetings -- they'd buy a bunch of good cheese and desserts, but I never actually got to have any, and they locked most of the remaining food up so I couldn't eat it.

I was never allowed to go, but they still involved me -- they got me to help them design a poster, and once they took me to a Center (back then it was called Apollo, but I believe they've renamed it several times since) in California. It was actually fairly nice -- they had vineyards, nice restaurants, and a huge stage outside where ballet was performed. I vaguely met the Teacher, Robert Burton. He was a somewhat flamboyantly dressed oldish man with a beard that gave off strange vibes -- later I realized he was just plain creepy -- and considered himself God, literally. Anything he said was like a law. I've read that he predicted the Apocalypse once, before my parents joined, but of course that never came about. Not so long ago, I found out he is pretty much a gay homophobe and used his power and belief that he is god to force students into having sex with him -- lovely.

He also taught the Students that laughter and imagination are "evil" and turn them back into Machines. So my parents became very serious and even more depressing, and constantly reprimanded each other for "using imagination". I sometimes stood by their dinner table -- theirs because by then I refused to eat with them -- feeling very wrong and stupid, but still telling them that EVERYONE uses imagination, and what's so bad about it, and it's something you NEED, but of course that didn't work.

Nevertheless, when my best friend learned about them and proclaimed them a cult, for a long time I strongly disagreed and didn't see how that could be true. I think that goes for any type of abuse -- when someone tells you what it is, you honestly don't believe it. It's not the kind of denial you can feel, it's just as strong as any beliefs you have based on fact -- that the world is round, etc.

I was still trying to run away, but less obviously, by practically living at friends' houses, but it still wasn't enough, it all just seemed so strange. It was strange to be in any house that wasn't meticulously cleaned every day, everything horribly in place and plain, almost Spartan, it was odd to be somewhere where people did things like order pizza on a whim or watched TV, and even talked to each other.

My parents left the cult when I was in 9th or 10th grade, and changed verrry slowly. They became a lot more normal, but it felt like after all those years of grayness it accumulated in the rooms and the house was trying to push me out. My mother joined some other -- group -- not a cult this time -- and now she goes off to Peru every couple of months. This, of course, costs a lot of money, and after another fight (over buying normal sugar over expensive sugar that I can't use), I couldn't bear it anymore and moved out. This was just a couple of months ago.

As soon as I moved out, it's like I started waking up after a long horrible dream, as cliche as that phrase sounds... I had random fits of happiness, and for a while I had nightmares that somehow I end up with my parents again, forever, and there is no way to escape. It's bizarre to live by myself, and being able to clean when I want and watch TV, and more past crap keeps having storming comebacks into my brain. I don't see my parents much anymore, and they're getting divorced soon (peacefully), which, now that I think of it, is probably what happens to most married ex cult members.

That's it. I wanted to write this because the School is barely known about and the people that do know about it usually have a pleasant impression, because the people involved are intellectuals and a on the outside, the whole thing seems like a pleasant upper-class philosophical group. But that's bullshit.

[ed. - Towards the end of 2009, "Masha" had a bit more to say about her parents, and the Fellowship.]
More on 'The Fellowship of Friends'

by IndigoCharm
Nov 12, 2009, 5:14:30 AM


If you follow my journal, you may remember I've written previously about the cult my parents were in -- The Fellowship of Friends, a.k.a. The School.

I've been reading the blog of a lady who used to be part of "Quiverfull," a Christian cult of sorts, and while my experiences are not even close to hers, I found it interesting how much I can associate, at least with the brainwashing aspect of it. My mother is more qualified to write about the brainwashing, really, since she was technically part of it and experienced a lot more of it, but I can't stop noticing that my life now is still, to some degree, affected by it.

When people don't go through something bad -- abusive relationships, brainwashing, an accident -- much of the time they think, "I would never [do x]" -- "If that was me, I'd leave that fucker in an instant!" "I would realize that's bullshit!" "I wouldn't blame myself for so and so's death, that makes no sense." I do that, still, only to catch myself and think, "but I did do that..." In the blog (, the lady who started it mentions in her story that she would reject anything seemingly un-Christian -- for an example, when she was taught in a college class that Moses may not have parted the sea, and it may have been a different sea completely than mentioned, she found it threatening and -- from what I gather -- ridiculous.

The thing is, you don't notice yourself starting to believe it. The Enneagram, for an example -- a system for classification of people. As previously mentioned, I thought at first that it was something like a zodiac, something for fun. When my parents started taking it more seriously, I got annoyed, but I never actively disbelieved it, and over the years it became something that Just Was -- it's like if you're told a scientific fact which you dislike (just invent a reason why) -- your disliking it doesn't make it less true, does it? Well, it was like that. Even while it annoyed me, it was as though I had a tape on in the back of my head, talking as I went through my daily life. "That teacher is definitely a Saturn-Martial," "Stupid lady, acting from her jack of hearts..." I even wrote down little guides in my notebooks (at the time, I kept many), complete with illustrations and examples. I automatically classified my friends and acquaintances, without even thinking about it. My parents seemed to do the same, and it was a Big Deal to them. I remember we had an argument over whether my mom was a Saturn-Mars or a Venusian, which in retrospect seems kind of amusing.

Once they classified me, I read the book on it thoroughly, trying to figure out what this meant for me. I didn't like the labels of "doughy, pasty, fat" much, but It Was the Way I Was, and I could do nothing to change it. If I was being "negative," they would accuse me of being Lunar. They also said I often "acted from my Queen of Hearts" -- a personality center which was apparently known for being violent and psychopathic -- killing babies and spouses one day, and passionately defending an idea the next. It was an excuse to dismiss things I did or said that they disliked as unreliable, not to be taken seriously. If my parents were in the School right now (or married, actually -- Erich's no longer my parent), they would probably say that suffragettes were all acting from the Queen of Hearts or something, and that I am a feminist for the same reason.

Around fifth grade, I started hanging out with Zoe, who has been my best friend since then. I was fascinated -- her house was the messiest I've ever seen, her parents didn't keep schedules, they ordered pizza and ate it cold later, at random times, and certainly not while sitting around the table with each other, silently. I'm not sure my parents were too happy with our friendship -- whenever I went over to her house, her parents' set time for picking me up would be very vague and sometimes would shift several hours ahead -- and my parents were the kind who liked to have things scheduled down the the exact minute. Zoe never really spent any time at my house -- it was too quiet and awkward, and I wasn't sure I should invite her. At Zoe's house, we walked around a lot, pretended to be fairies, and ate half frozen ice cubes. Sometimes her parents' roommates and some other people came around -- I was a little frightened of them at the time, I think.

Around 6th grade Zoe started learning more about my family and when I told her about the Enneagram, in full seriousness, she thought it was a load of fascinating bunk (basically). I didn't say anything out loud, but secretly I was scandalized. I thought it was stupid to challenge something so obviously true, and she just didn't know better because, well, because she was one of the Outside people. Machines, though I hesitated to think of her in that way.

With time, I agreed with her, out of spite at my parents, and I even told myself I would make an active effort to stop classifying people in my head, because it IS all bunk, right? Well, logically, I might have thought that, but it hardly went away -- it still seemed to me like a fact of life for the next few years. Outsiders from my family would pass by through my life -- mostly people from Zoe's life -- and say that my family is weird, and their beliefs are basically bullshit -- and that they are abusive -- but I didn't believe them. Oh, that's not to say I got along with my parents -- I despised everything about them, and I thought they were unfair. I cried on the bus sometimes because I dreaded coming home. But abusive? No, it was all my fault, I was a bad person; irrational and overly dramatic. And my parents aren't crazy. I believed them. I liked that I received sympathy from Zoe's dad and stepmom, and I liked that they sided with me, but I couldn't go as far as to accuse my parents of anything -- to myself, at least. But on the outside, I agreed with them, and more than anything I wished their jokes about kidnapping me would become serious.

That it was a load of bunk, and that my parents HAD abused me all came in a sort of revelation much, much later. I can't say it was a very nice experience. I'm still not entirely sure sometimes that it was abuse -- my mom would probably deny it, despite the fact that we are on good terms now.

I think from 6th grade to 8th or so, me and my parents hardly ever spoke to each other. The exceptions were fights and times when i would show interest in the Fellowship. They sometimes had people come over, mostly Steve. He was a person they knew from the fellowship, very rich and with brilliantly white teeth that looked almost fake for all the brightening, and he made me very uncomfortable -- probably because he seemed perpetually uncomfortable himself. That would explain his neverending smile, even when there was nothing to smile about. Or perhaps he was just showing off his teeth.

My parents at least viewed me as a good artist, if anything, so once or twice they asked me for advice on things that involved art -- I remember once, they asked me to design a poster for a Meeting. I've no idea why my mom wasn't asked, since she is a much better and experienced artist, but I was quite proud of being asked and drew them a door opening into space. They (my parents and Steve) seemed impressed, for whatever reason, and thanked me. I can recall two other times they complimented me -- I think once they said I have a good singing voice, and another time Erich told me I could be a bellydancer -- apparently he saw a bellydancer that was quite chubby, so I guess there's at least one career I'd be ok in, right? Though I suppose he thought it was a compliment, since obviously a chubby teenager doesn't have many prospects in life. /snark

Most of the other times, we fought. I would complain about their music (The Magic Flute) or about their rules -- I don't know why, but they irritated me. On the rare times I came out of my room, they would usually be having dinner -- very prim and proper, always drinking wine and only talking (very carefully and properly) about the school and some proverbs they gave them. Their sentence structure felt like old plaster, "Tanya, what did you think about the new speech Robert gave on Man number 9 [or whatever]?" "I thought it was very interesting, but remember, we cannot talk while we eat." And they clink wineglasses and take little sips. If I passed by, I would object very angrily, particularly to any talks of how evil laughter and imagination were. That was one thing that they never managed to brainwash me about, probably because by then I barely talked to my parents except to argue. Of course, they never listened to me and assumed a very superior attitude about my apparent dim-wittedness.

I did, however, try to be "present". I considered it my failure to not be it, and I would go through times when I would basically promise myself to be good and try to stay present a 100% so as to achieve higher consciousness. Of course, it never worked, and then I would adopt an "I don't care, I don't need that anyway" sort of attitude to ward off disappointment in myself.

I should mention all the proverbs and quotes. I don't remember how often -- it must have been every week -- but the School would regularly send all its Students a list of lectures and quotes. Not a short one -- my parents would always print them out and staple them together, and each time it looked to be at least 15 pages. With nice borders, too. Now that I live on my own and am more aware of how much money ink and such costs, that makes my stomach hurt a little. It explains why they got mad at me anytime I printed a picture or a poem, though.

Now I mostly don't think of the Enneagram, but I do find that once in a while I get mad at myself for not being "aware" enough -- in the sense of being calm and worldly and all-knowing -- snobby, really. I still feel like an outsider to most of society -- the people who live in a loud home, watch TV, and order pizza -- or any food, really. People who eat junk food -- like my boyfriend; he is a mystery to me. Back at school, it always seemed to be the middle-class or rich people who ate junk food, but now it seems like everyone but me did. Families just make me feel weird, since I never had much of one, and I have no IDEA how people with families feel. For an example, when i talk to Dylan (online friend), I can't for the life of me imagine living with a mom that talks to you and feeds the cat chicken in wine and smokes outside, and having a little brother who plays video games. If I had tried to play video games, my mother would have gotten angry over the noise, not to mention my asking them to spend more than, say, 10 non-food-related dollars on me. I can't imagine having family Christmases anymore, or family gatherings at all (I'm looking at you, Commrad). Basically, I feel like all people with cousins, sister, brothers, aunts, uncles -- they are all crazy, to some degree. And hectic.

On the bright side, I have finally achieved a messiness to rival Zoe's.

"Vena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 17, 2007:
My daughter was born and raised here [Oregon House], went to day care at the FOF Montesorri School and then through five grades with the same teacher. She benefited from this nourishing experience and I was grateful for it. She knew many children from other cultures and language was not a barrier for interaction at that age. There was a sincere attempt by the classroom teacher to teach them kindness and fairness. The down side came as they got a little older and imitated the ideas and opinions that they heard from their parents and other adults. As they began to selectively enter and experience Fellowship events they began to develope the same prejudices and beliefs of the adults. I am eternally grateful that my daughter saw and was not afraid to express what she correctly perceived even though she had many friends here, adults and children alike, that she cared for and had know for years. She frequently said that people were acting and were afraid to say what they were really thinking. She observed that students were posing and carefully smiling all the time for fear of being considered “negative” by others and that they were unable to share what was really in their hearts and minds. She appreciated the beauty of the surroundings and the refinement of the cultural events but she was strong enough to reject the pretense that was necessary to be accepted as a member of the community. Many children that were raised here have joined and sadly the parents are very proud. She, in many ways, was like the child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.
I am proud of her confidence in her own perceptions and incredibly grateful that she did not join.
On another subject I am still convinced that RB is ill and can not recognize it. I believe that the school has been a manifestation of his delusions about himself. The students close to him, if they are honest, probably secretly suspect it and it may be their biggest test to speak out. But if someone is a diabetic there is really no point in blaming them for not producing insulin. I don’t know what, if anything, can be done for RB but if there is something it will be the responsibility of those who remain.