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.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

When sheep return to the fold

"Cult Survivor" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 2, 2019:

107. brucelevy

I agree that somebody has to have some type of delusion to be a FOF member these days, but in my opinion there is more than that: there is comfort.

When I left the FOF in 2016 the average age of the membership was 58 (I had access to that information through a person that was in the FOF board at the time). Since to my knowledge there was no influx of young members after my departure, we can assume that the current average age is around 60 years old. Many members have been in the cult 20, 30 and some even 40 years. After all that time in the cult, there is really no where to go, specially for the aging community at Apollo, which is basically an “spiritual” nursery home. Many members own property there and most already picked their spots at the Apollo cemetery. Leaving the cult is not an option for them.

On a related topic, another information that I got from that person that was a board member is that 80% of the income at Apollo comes from “Robert’s events” since the vast majority of the aging members at Apollo make minimum donations. Considering that Burton is also the only redeemer of the so-called “vouchers” that are the currency used for free labor (1 voucher = 6 hours of work = 1 meeting with Burton), it will be interesting to see what will happen when Burton stops teaching because of health issues or death.

My prediction is that when Burton dies or becomes too ill to host events a war between the Dorian-Rowena and the Asaf-Holman factions will start. I’m aware that Asaf Braverman was expelled from the FOF and sent to “the end of the Ray of Creation” by Burton, but most people have a positive opinion of him (better than Dorian’s, that’s for sure). I also saw a copy of an email that Greg Holman sent to Asaf with details about the steps he would take when Burton dies in order to protect the art pieces in the Apollo Gallery and prepare the ground for Asaf’s return to power. [Bolds added] It’s not difficult to understand Holman’s logic: The cult will need a leader and Dorian is too shady (on top of that his meetings are incomprehensible). Asaf looks like a “nice guy”, people were able to follow his meetings, and he proved that he is able to attract young people with his BePeriod “online school”. At any rate, Dorian Matei and Rowena Taylor would never let the coup happen without putting up a fight, that’s for sure.

May be I’m wrong and after Burton passes away there will be no war and the FOF will slowly fade away, similarly to what is happening to the Ananda group in Nevada City after the death of its founder Swami Kriyananda. The main difference between Ananda and the FOF is that Kriyananda was prosecuted for sexual abuse like Burton but he didn’t accumulate wealth; considering that there are millions of dollars in art pieces in the Apollo Gallery, my gut feeling is that there will be a war for power.

We shall see.

[ed. - "Cult Survivor" returned to the Fellowship of Friends in 2021, and "completed their task" June 1, 2022.]


"amesgilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 26, 2021:

Ton2u, in #47, above, you provide a link to the November 4th 1996 LA Times article. Thanks, and it brings up a point I think would bear some further research, should Jennings Brown or some other intrepid explorer ever feel up to it. Which is, why do some people that have escaped, return?

Here’s the quote from the article, headlined, Trouble Taints a Cerebral Sanctuary, by Jenifer Warren

For years I ignored or justified a lot of things, but this I could not ignore,” said Pamella Cavanna, 54, who left the fellowship last year after devoting two decades and more than $250,000 to Burton and his teachings. “A teacher should have moral standards that we aspire to. Instead, Robert has standards we are forced to overlook.

I actually talked to this lady around the time she left (over the Troy Buzbee scandal), and we certainly agreed that Burton, if he was sincere in his ridiculous claim that he was a “goddess in a man’s body”, would surely be more than usually empathic to women in general and women in the Fellowship of Friends specifically. But, we both recognized at the time, he is not. Far from it, he is a noted misogynist, and unless they are of immediate use, that is, able to give him lots of money or willing use their powers and influence to advance his selfish aims, he often treats his female followers with open contempt and cruelty.
Yet, despite this, she did rejoin, and AFAIK, is still a member and still living in Oregon House.

Another example from that time that I have personal knowledge of is a lady who not only left and then rejoined, but when I met with her once by chance, tried to persuade me to rejoin as well, adding as a final inducement, “I know that Robert would forgive you”.


Words failed me then and now.

A decade later, she had left again, and AFAIK, is still living in Oregon House.

The number of people who have left and then rejoined is probably in the many dozens. What is going on? There must be some serious psychological issues to study, maybe even a PhD in it for someone. And in parallel, what is happening within the membership when the stray sheep returns to the fold? I remember a couple of times feeling very glad, even vindicated in some subtle way, when I heard someone had returned. It bolstered my belief system, for sure.

If Jennings can find the answers, I for one would be glad to support a call to name the phenomenon, “Jennings Syndrome” or something similar, in honor of his discoveries.


"WhaleRider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2021:

It’s no mystery why a person may rejoin a cult IMO, given how addictive the dopamine hit is being subjected to “love bombing”.

It’s the same reason people relapse on drugs and alcohol despite the damage it causes.

On the other hand, there is a condition known as “battered person/woman syndrome”, whereby a person is rendered passive and dependent by not only repeated violence, but emotional abuse as well, coupled with a poor support system outside the abusive relationship.


"amesgilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 7, 2021:

Now that Dorian Mattei must turn his mind to more pressing things other than churning out massive mountains of meaningless mush and collecting the $$$ on behalf of Burton and the organization, I wonder if there is not a sense of despair amongst the members of the Fellowship of Friends. I mean, Burton is in his dotage, Dorian is in serious trouble, Sasha makes even less sense than Dorian, and any insider is going to have his or hands full if they tried to take over and instill some direction to the lives of the sheep.

What to do, what to do? the cry goes up.

I bet I’m not the only one who has come up with the answer. [See "Cult Survivor" above]

Send a team to Israel and negotiate the return of Asaf Braverman!

Yup, offer Asaf the imperial purple, and the future throne. He’s had years of practice, he knows the place, he knows the politics, he has the words down pat. Not for him the iPad that seems surgically implanted on Dorian’s arm, he is the master of extemporaneous bullshit and projection of certainty. And he has the great advantage of being well spoken, and speaking English fluently. Plus, I’m sure his wife would very much welcome coming home to the U.S.

There would have to be, ahem, certain adjustments within the Fellowship, to be sure. But no impediments that a few well–chosen words and surgically precise actions by the powers–that–be could not overcome.

Of course, Dorian relinquishes his present role as anointed successor to ‘spend more time with his family’, maybe back in Romania (after justice is done and he has paid his dues), Sasha gets to return to something more suited to his abilities, like taking out the garbage, Rowena gets to open a new center in say, the slums of Rio, and Linda gets to clean the floors in an orphanage of her choice. Plus, a dozen of the rest, you know and we know who you are! All centers of rebellion or trouble out of the way, whoosh! A clean sweep and an auspicious start for the next Emperor of Oregon House.

And I’m sure there would be great rejoicing amongst the majority of the flock!

[ed. - See also "Ames Gilbert's liberation plea"]

"Insider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2021:

It’s probably just a meaningless coincidence, but it is of interest that a certain M@ri0 F@ntoni, who left the Fellowship in 2016 to become of one of Asaf’s key supporters and technical advisors, recently rejoined the Fellowship.

Monday, November 15, 2021

"An Expert Explains Cult Recovery"

[ed. - This discussion is hosted by Lloyd Evans, who was raised a Jehovah's Witness and is now an apostate. From Wikipedia, "Janja Lalich is best known as a foremost expert on cults and coercion, charismatic authority, power relations, ideology and social control. She is a professor emerita of sociology at the California State University, Chico." Dr. Lalich is familiar with The Fellowship of Friends.

(While Evans has recently been dogged by his own scandal, it doesn't diminish the value these two authorities have for current cult members seeking to escape, or for former members trying to understand and process their cult experience.)]

(Part 1) with Alexandra Stein, PhD

(Part 2) with Janja Lalich, PhD

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"Robert Earl Burton: Californian guru devoted to finer things in life accused of sex assaults"

[ed. - The following article appears in The Times of London. (It appears the author must have seen a CliffsNotes version of Jennings Brown's original investigative journalism.)]

Robert Earl Burton: Californian guru devoted to finer things in life accused of sex assaults

Charlie Mitchell

Saturday November 13 2021, 12.01am GMT

The Times
Robert Earl Burton, now in his 80s, has not responded to the allegations

When a charismatic leader established a would-be utopia devoted to fine art, higher consciousness and the production of wine in 1970s California, it drew hundreds of devotees from across America.However, Robert Earl Burton’s teachings soon grew more apocalyptic and allegations of sexual exploitation began to trickle out. Burton is alleged to have abused scores of male followers, particularly those who were young, attractive and heterosexual. There are claims of sex rituals, dubbed “love fests”, where Burton would attempt to have sex with 100 followers in a day.

A podcast called Revelations, the product of three years of work by Jennings Brown, an American investigative journalist, is now lifting the lid on the Fellowship of Friends, which today has about 1,600 members.

Burton next a piece of European art at the Fellowship of Friends property in 1981
Gary Fong/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images
[ed. - This photo shows Burton back when he called shaving "barbaric," no pun intended.]

“It sounded stranger than fiction,” Brown, who first learnt of the cult while speaking to the husband of the American spiritual leader Teal Swan, told Spending time there was “surreal”. He added: “It was fascinating being around all these incredibly brilliant, articulate, kind people who were all out in this world that felt separated from the world that I knew.” But soon, amid whispers of sex rituals, he realised “there was so much more going on.”

Life on the 1,200-acre Apollo compound in Oregon House, California, was always dictated by Burton’s whims. The former Arkansas teacher, now in his early 80s, recast himself as a guru in the 1970s after developing the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic, and his Fourth Way school of self-awareness. Burton preached full immersion in high art and the abolition of negative thoughts. His mission, according to the podcast, was to start a new refined civilisation that would emerge from the approaching apocalypse.

Sport, humour, glasses, using the word “I” and even pregnancy were forbidden. Adherents were encouraged to take up ballet, painting and classical music. They also funded his “Galleria”, an impressive collection of mostly European artwork, kept in his home. Women were thought to be spiritually inferior, Brown claims.

“Nathan”, one of dozens of current and former members interviewed by the journalist, claimed that Burton insisted his wife terminate their child. “His explanation was that the child would be born too soon to be included on the ark. And being the fool that I was, I accepted the explanation,” Nathan said. “It wasn’t my best act here on Earth. My wife didn’t agree to it. It was kind of against her will.”

In 1996 a lawsuit was filed by Troy Buzbee, a former member, who claimed Burton abused him. The suit was settled out of court. By then, the community was large enough to have outposts in Paris and London, Brown said. When the Buzbee allegations made recruiting in America harder, they started recruiting more aggressively in Latin America and Russia.

The group was once investigated by immigration officials for allegedly bringing foreign recruits into the US on religious visas, Brown said, before coercing them into sexual slavery. No charges were brought. Prosecutors cite difficulties in pursuing religious groups, who are protected by the First Amendment.

The group has not responded publicly to the claims laid out in Revelations. However, Greg Holman, its president, told Brown he did not believe the assault allegations were true but that any community member was welcome to come to him with facts and evidence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

"Sex rituals and fine wines: Inside alleged Cali cult the Fellowship of Friends"

 [ed. - The following article appears in the New York Post. Also see The Times of London's reporting, Robert Earl Burton: Californian guru devoted to finer things in life accused of sex assaults.]

Sex rituals and fine wines: Inside alleged Cali cult the Fellowship of Friends 

By Sara Stewart
November 9, 2021
7:25pm Updated