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, July 9, 2022

Sharon Gans and The Odyssey Study Group

[ed. - With husband Alex Horn, Sharon Gans Horn operated the "Theatre of All Possibilities" in San Francisco until they were "forced" to flee, ending up in New York City. Sharon Gans died on January 22, 2021.]

Odyssey Study Group cult still going strong after death of charismatic leader Sharon Gans 

July 9, 2022

Sharon Gans Horn and her husband, Alex, started the Odyssey Sudy Group in San Francisco in the 1970s, later moving it to Manhattan where the "cult" allegedly preyed on the powerful and wealthy. Gans Horn died in 2021, but her followers are said to have kept the group going.
Sharon Gans Horn and her husband, Alex, started the Odyssey Sudy Group in San Francisco in the 1970s, later moving it to NYC where the "cult" allegedly preyed on the powerful and wealthy.
NY Post photo composite

The charismatic leader of a cult that recruited Manhattan’s wealthy and powerful may have died last year, but her notorious movement is still thriving.

The Odyssey Study Group, also known as The Work and A Fourth Way School, has long been accused of sexual and child abuse as well as siphoning cash from its members to pay for its leaders’ extravagant lifestyles in Manhattan, Boston, the Hamptons and Mexico.

OSG, which was registered as a for-profit company in 2001, currently has more than 200 members on the East Coast, a cult expert and former member both told The Post.

“It’s a very bizarre kind of group because they are generally wealthy and highly educated Harvard, Yale and Wharton types,” said Rick Alan Ross, author of the 2014 book “Cults Inside out: How People Get in and Can Get Out” and executive director of Cult Education Institute, which has studied the group since 2001.

“When people say that people in New York City are much too smart to get involved in a cult, it just means that the cult is very sophisticated and slick,” Ross said, adding that OSG’s survival has a lot to do with its cash flow.

Under former leader Sharon Gans Horn — who died from COVID complications in January 2021 at the age of 85 — the group was generating more than $1.2 million a year, just in member dues paid in cash, said Ross.

Former OSG member Spencer Schneider wrote a book on the cult’s inner workings.
Former OSG member Spencer Schneider wrote a book on the cult’s inner workings.
Doug Kuntz for NY Post

The group, which meets twice weekly in an office building on West 38th Street and an Upper West Side Church, is now run by four alleged longtime members handpicked by Gans Horn, according to a recent class-action lawsuit.

Gans Horn, a one-time Hollywood actress who had a small part in the 1972 film version of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” also left the bulk of her $3.275 million estate to some members.

“According to the purported will and testamentary trusts … defendant Sharon Gans Horn bequeathed her interest in OSG to defendants Minerva Taylor, Lorraine Imlay, Greg Koch, and Ken Salaz,” according to the lawsuit.

The defendants have long been leaders of OSG, according to a source. Co-executor Michael Horn, 64, is Gans Horn’s stepson and is not a member of the cult, according to the source.

Taylor, 71, who has a five-bedroom home in East Hampton, founded a Manhattan recruiting firm — Taylor Hodson, Inc. — in December 1994, according to public records; Gans Horn is alleged to have been a silent partner in the business, according to the source. Taylor’s specialty is recruitment of new members, the source said, and her company employs many alleged members of the cult.

A photo from an Odyssey Study Group Christmas party, wth Sharon Gans Horn front and center, in 1997 highlighted the organization’s privileged background.
A photo from an Odyssey Study Group Christmas party, with Sharon Gans Horn front and center, in 1997 highlighted the organization’s privileged background.

“I am surprised Greg Koch made the cut,” said a former cult member who last year posted his views about the group on Cult Revolt, a blog started by Schneider. “I remember him being brutally set upon by Alex Horn [Gans Horn’s husband] and the older students one night … Greg was in tears and I felt sorry for him.”

Imlay, a ceramic artist, is a retired New York City teacher. Now 74, she has lived in the same four-bedroom West Village co-op since 2003, public records show. She met Gans Horn and Alex Horn in San Francisco in the 1980s, and was described as the leader’s “body person” or assistant.

Salaz is among the younger alleged leaders of the group. At 52, he is an artist and magician who lives in Croton-on-Hudson, according to public records. He was described as a protege of Alex Horn by the source.

A lawyer representing Taylor, Koch, Salaz, Imlay and Horn declined comment.

The class-action suit, filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court last year, was brought by Stephanie Rosenberg and Marjorie Hochman, who both fled OSG after spending years involved with the cult. They claim that they were used by the group as slave labor — cooking and cleaning for twice weekly meetings in Manhattan and laboring on renovations to luxury properties used by Gans Horn that often required them to do construction and painting into the wee hours.

“Through methods traditionally utilized to groom, intimidate, weaken, gaslight, and exploit their victims, OSG coerced and tricked its members into, among other things … paying it monthly fees and performing many hours of labor without compensation,” the lawsuit says.

Gans Horn reportedly excluded her children from her will.
Gans Horn reportedly excluded her children from her will.

“We filed a complaint alleging that these members were employees because they worked for the defendants’ for-profit company and never got paid,” said Mordy Yankovich, a partner in Lieb at Law, PC representing plaintiffs Rosenberg and Hochman.

“Vindictive” late leader Gans Horn “intentionally excluded” her own children from the 2015 will “for reasons that are known to them,” according to court papers.

“She was like a human wrecking ball,” said Ross, alleging that Gans Horn broke up the marriages of cult members, encouraged some to engage in affairs with each other, and organized adoptions of followers’ children. “She was incredibly vindictive.”

Gans Horn’s own offspring, Ilsa Lee Kaye and son David Kulko, were estranged from her, although Kaye’s children were not excluded from the will, court documents show.

The cult’s success had much to do with Gans Horn, who has been described as a narcissist, Ross said.

“The whole thing is a pyramid scheme and a hoax,” said Spencer Schneider, a former OSG member who has written “Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos and Survival,” a tell-all book out now about the cult. “It’s a long haul hoax and Sharon was a genius at going after vulnerable people with money.”

Gans Horn, whose grave is seen here, died in 2021 from complications related to COVID-19.
Gans Horn, whose grave is seen here, died in 2021 from COVID complications.
Provided by Spencer L. Schneider

According to Schneider, who spent 23 years as part of the group, members paid $400 in cash in dues to Gans Horn, who would then direct them to help renovate her compounds in Manhattan, the Hamptons, upstate New York, Montana and even Mexico. She owned a luxurious home in San Miguel de Allende, bought in 2004. She later sold the property to Taylor, according to public records.

Taylor and her then-husband followed Gans Horn and Alex Horn from San Francisco to the East Coast in the early 1980s, according to a source and public documents.

In addition to the vacation home in Mexico, Taylor is listed as the “registered agent” on the LLC that bought Gans Horn’s sprawling $8.5 million Plaza Hotel residence where she died in January 2021. Taylor was also named as an investor in the property, along with Gans Horn and three others, including Manhattan hedge fund owner Joseph Stilwell, who signed the deed documents in 2008, public and court records show.

Manhattan Cult Story by Spencer Schneider

Gans and her playwright husband, who died in 2007, co-founded OSG in San Francisco in the 1970s. The group, known then as Theater of All Possibilities, was partly set up to put on plays by Horn. Its principles are based on the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdieff, a Russian mystic and philosopher, who also inspired the Fellowship of Friends, a California-based cult popular with Google employees.

Gans and Horn shuttered their San Francisco theater in December 1978 when they learned that police and social welfare investigators were interviewing their former students who alleged child neglect, sexual abuse and beatings, according to Ross.

The couple fled first to Montana, and then ended up in New York City in the 1980s when they established OSG and lived in a series of opulent homes, including an apartment in Greenwich Village where actress Marisa Tomei was their next-door neighbor.

Ross said that he believes the cult will continue although the loss of their “philosopher queen” Gans has likely hit them hard.

“It’s no different than Scientology,” said Schneider, an attorney. “That group continued even after the death of their founder.”

"Jomo Piñata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 1, 2022:

Coming this summer, a book about the Alex Horn/Sharon Gans cult:

“We were invisible. We had to be. We took an oath of absolute secrecy. We never even told our immediate families who we were. We went about our lives in New York City. Just like you. We were your accountants, money managers, lawyers, executive recruiters, doctors. We owned your child’s private school and sold you your brownstone. But you’d never guess our secret lives, how we lived in a kind of silent terror and fervor. There were hundreds of us.”

Right under the noses of neighbors, clients, spouses, children, and friends, a secret society, simply called School—a cult of snared Manhattan professionals—has been led by the charismatic, sociopathic and dangerous leader Sharon Gans for decades. Spencer Schneider was recruited in the eighties and he stayed for more than twenty-three years as his life disintegrated, his self-esteem eroded, and he lined the pockets of Gans and her cult.

Cult members met twice weekly, though they never acknowledged one another outside of meetings or gatherings. In the name of inner development, they endured the horrors of mental, sexual, and physical abuse, forced labor, arranged marriages, swindled inheritances and savings, and systematic terrorizing. Some of them broke the law. All for Gans.

“During those years,” Schneider writes, “my world was School. That’s what it’s like when you’re in a cult, even one that preys on and caters to New York’s educated elite. This is my story of how I got entangled in School and how I got out.”

At its core, Manhattan Cult Story is a cautionary tale of how hundreds of well-educated, savvy, and prosperous New Yorkers became fervent followers of a brilliant but demented cult leader who posed as a teacher of ancient knowledge. It’s about double-lives, the power of group psychology, and how easy it is to be radicalized—all too relevant in today’s atmosphere of conspiracy and ideologue worship.”


Memoir by Sharon Gans’ NYC cult member exposes fight clubs and broken lives

By Heather Robinson

July 2, 2022


It was 1991, and Spencer Schneider, a 31-year-old corporate lawyer, was face to face in the boxing ring with Morton, an “Ivy League nebbish” who suddenly hit him in the face with shocking savagery.

“I looked down at my brown gloves, which were now wet with blood,” Schneider writes in his book, “Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival” (Arcade). Schneider’s nose was broken. Glen, a doctor and fellow member at “School” — the secretive cult that had recruited Schneider the previous year — forbade Schneider from seeking medical help, counseling him to “use [his] pain” as an “opportunity to practice non-identification with the body.”

It was this kind of masochism packaged as self-help that allowed Sharon Gans, the cult’s charismatic leader, to ensnare hundreds of young professionals in Manhattan and Boston to provide slave labor to build her compounds in Kalispell, Mont., and upstate New York. Often laboring for 24 hours at a time without a break, the men stripped logs, installed plumbing and electricity — none of which they were trained to do. (One man sustained a serious injury, nearly losing his arm). The women cooked and cleaned for free. Cult members would also recruit new members, and bankroll her lavish lifestyle, including an $8 million Plaza Hotel apartment. (This was the apartment where she would die of COVID-19 in 2021, at the age of 86. Gans’ reign over her exploited students spanned more than 40 years, and the cult continues today.)

Alex Horn and Sharon Gans who ran a local theater program, are accused of running a cult.
Alex Horn and wife Sharon Gans originally started their cult in San Francisco in the late 1970s as The Theater of All Possibilities.
Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Many of its adherents are New York City big shots, according to Schneider, whose fascinating exposé of School — also known as Odyssey Study Group — is the first ever to be published by a survivor.

Gans and her husband, Alex Horn, started the cult in San Francisco in the late 1970s as The Theater of All Possibilities. They reportedly forced people to sell tickets to their critically-panned plays on penalty of physical abuse, and directed members whom to marry and reproduce with.

gans lodge
Gans forced cult members to help build her lodge in Falls Creek, Montana, where they often worked 24 hours a day without a break.

By the early 1980s, they had decamped to New York, where they rebranded themselves and began meeting in apartments, then at a loft on lower Broadway where Schneider recalls going to “class.” 

Gans, a red-haired former actress, was a magnetic pseudo-intellectual sociopath whom Schneider judged, upon their first meeting, as “completely nuts.”

He nonetheless fell under her spell — for 23 years.

Schneider (second from left) thought Sharon Gans was ”completely nuts” when he first met her — but ended up staying in the cult for 23 years.
Courtesy of Spencer Schneider

Schneider was groomed for School by an MBA student named Bruce whom he met in a bar in the late 1980s. He was further drawn in over lunch at the trendy Blue Water Grill restaurant on East 16th Street, where both Bruce and a beautiful investment banker named Heather asked him about himself. “Heather and Bruce listened so intently. In my life, who had listened like this?” It felt like being in on a seductive secret, and “like falling in love.”

Schneider was then invited to attend classes he was forbidden to talk about, discussing esoteric Russian philosophers George Gurdjieff and Piotr Ouspensky (who, despite his philosophy degree from Washington University in Saint Louis, Schneider had never heard of) as well as “ancient oral wisdom” dispensed by Gans, who described herself as almost at the “level of Christ and Buddha.” He paid a monthly “tuition” of $300 in cash, which included boxing classes — that were supposedly to teach him “what it means to be courageous and a hero” — acting classes, fishing trips, parties and retreats.

Gans enjoyed meddling in the love lives of members, forcing them to marry and have affairs.

Schneider first saw Gans a year into his indoctrination, at a ritual where she reclined, pontificating, with platters of fruit, cheese and vodka by her side. Dispensing lavish praise and blunt, cruel put-downs, Gans behaved like a domineering, abusive parent whose erratic behavior keeps the kids on edge.

Gans mainly targeted the wealthy for her cult; some were heirs or heiresses with family money, while others were high-salaried professionals. One young executive boasted about his $20,000 bonus — and Gans made him sign it over to her on the spot.

After Gans’ death in 2021, the cult was inherited by four members, who are now named in a class action lawsuit.

Wildly intrusive into the personal lives of her “students,” Gans regularly dispensed unsolicited advice to people about sex (she ordered one married man to “find a young girl to jog with and get [oral sex]” and advised a married family woman to “go to Italy . . . Stand at the fountain. Wait for a man. Have an affair.”) She arranged marriages (including Schneider’s) and even told Schneider to impregnate his 19-year-old stepdaughter. (Thankfully, he rejected her advice).

At one point, Gans offered Carol, a wealthy student, her choice of “any man she wanted,” and arranged for her to marry Bob, who was already happily married to another cult member, Alice. Gans held an engagement party and heaped praise on Alice for relinquishing her husband. As the students applauded, Alice’s tears of humiliation “streamed down.”

While Gans had chosen “Beth,” with whom Schneider has one son, to be his wife, he nonetheless “valued [his] marriage” of 13 years, which made him reluctant to leave the cult. His gradual awakening — and his exit from the group in 2012 — was prompted by reading online accounts of other members’ escapes, and by Gans’ own increasingly volatile behavior, including her shrieking attack on a dignified, respected actress who was hosting an arts festival in the Republic of Georgia (“It would be like doing this to Helen Mirren,” says Schneider). Gans’ heavy-handed intrusion into Schneider’s divorce in 2010 also put him off.

Schneider says the cult, now called “The Study,” is led by four people who inherited it from Gans, who was estranged from her two children when she died. These new cult leaders are named in a class-action lawsuit filed last year by two women who say they provided slave labor to Gans.

“Sharon got off on controlling people’s lives, and it wasn’t just anybody,” says Schneider. “It was your doctor, lawyer, architect, money manager, the owner of your children’s private school.”


[See also:TWISTED SOCIETY Inside NYC’s secret cult that ‘forced gay people into conversion therapy’ & brainwashed high-achievers into manual labor]


"Jomo Pinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 9, 2022:

More fun with Alex Horn and Sharon Gans:

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