Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The dominant Fellowship of Friends myth


Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Earl Burton (R. E. Burton)
Robert Earl Burton in the early 1970s
"jomopinata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 6, 2017:
[ed. - Responding to "Crossroads". Links added.]

The dominant myth is that the Fellowship was something true and beautiful but became corrupted. I understand the appeal of that myth and bought into it myself at one time. My experience is that a more thorough and searching look yields a huge trove of historical data that just doesn’t square with that account, even though that account seems at least initially to be true. The appeal to idealism and aesthetics is what helped to hook us into something which looked glorious and appealed to our narcissism, reflected back to us something we wanted to believe about ourselves. I think this is true of Burton also: a successful elementary school teacher who was forced to resign from his job because, according to him, there were claims that he “hugged the kids too much.” He had the misfortune to be picked up hitchhiking by Alexander Horn [ed. - or, in another account, "a doctor"], who abused virtually everyone with whom he came into contact, and then to have an auto accident in Modesto in 1968 in which he apparently suffered brain damage that led to “acquired sociopathy.” On New Year’s Eve 1969-70 he met Bonita, who was tripping on mescaline while alcohol further loosened his inhibitions, and he manipulated her relentlessly into believing that he was a deeply mysterious higher being. Soon he monopolized her time, even though she was married and a mother with young children, all the while extracting money from her. Think about it. It’s dishonorable by any moral standard. Within about eighteen months he seduced her and immediately thereafter told lies about it (claiming celibacy) which were published in the Via Del Sol newsletter Meg Gwynne (later called Stella Wirk) had taken to publish regularly. Once a small core group was established, deliberate efforts were undertaken to recruit new members who were friends and acquaintances of current members. (“How would you like to change your life?” recruits such as Doris Mack were asked.) Contemporaneous documents from 1971 indicate that the group could only be reached “by invitation.” A concerted effort was made to recruit wealthy professionals, such as physicians, because the group needed them to provide a veneer of respectability, as a means to obtain money. Burton himself was buying gold coins. He pronounced himself “The Avatar of the Age” and announced that young men could avoid the draft (during the Vietnam War) by becoming ministers in his church. Pretty sweet deal, eh? During this time a family of four had become involved with the group and then left. Shortly thereafter the mother of the family committed suicide, leaving a suicide note which talked about Burton and the school. Burton cautioned members not to help anyone who was suicidal, because “they will drag you down and they will strangle you just as some drowning people drown someone who tries to help them.” He remarked, on a piece of paper used to communicate during his “period of silence,” that “it is good when weak students leave as they are weight; it used to bother me but now it’s like a useless object being gone.” Think about it. Don’t help suicidal people. People who are weak students are like useless objects. You can’t manipulate them as effectively. Good, true, and noble. Deeply spiritual. 1971. Another person who left in 1971 told me that during the “period of silence” Burton used to blow kisses to people. He indicated that Burton was apparently envious of this person’s influence within the group, and when Burton blew him kisses “they were contemptuous.” Good, true, and noble. 1971. The person further reflected that his take on Burton was that he was sociopathic. After this person left, Meg Gwynne’s Via Del Sol Journal included a question posed to Burton about why this person left. Burton’s answer was, “He cannot take responsibility.” Knowing what you now know about Burton, reflect on that explanation and let me know how that sits with you. Later the gold coin octave yielded to the purchase, not only of the land in Oregon House, but of a Cessna aircraft. Understand, Burton went, in the span of less than two years, from a part-time tennis instructor and substitute teacher in Emeryville , who lived at home with his mom and didn’t have decent wheels, to a guy who lived in a new Volkswagen bus and who was being flown between LA and Northern California to “teach.” A young male student had the job of flying him back and forth. At least one student walked in on Burton and caught him in flagrante delicto with the pilot. This is 1972, the same year that Burton offered an account, at a meeting either in Oakland or Los Angeles, of how he slit the throat of a goat and the sound the goat made. Good, true, and noble. Many people don’t know that Burton renewed his California public elementary teaching credential in 1975. If you are the Avatar of the Age, the torch having been passed to you upon Meher Baba’s death, what do you need with a license to teach elementary school? The natural explanation is, he thought the scam might fall apart, and he might have to go back to teaching elementary school. I could go on and on but I’m not sure for my purposes it’s necessary. Many people take the dominant myth as a given. But a little digging shows that it’s just bullshit. It’s what people want to believe. But it’s false.

"jomopinata" added:
Most of us here did choose The 4th Way in our Search for The Miraculous, The Mystery School. We “found Robert’s School” which was based on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Many of us shared the same sense of miracle when we “found the School.” Here’s the difficulty with this piece of the account: it states that we chose, but it leaves out the context of the choice. First, many people found a bookmark. Those bookmarks illicitly harvested the reader’s engagement with a book; engagement with a book can be a very powerful thing. The bookmarks strongly implied a connection with the book’s authors when there was no such connection. Most of us assumed the connection. I remember asking, “when do we learn the movements?” And that sense of miracle? It was engineered. Did you know that the FOF registered a copyright on the prospective student meetings as a dramatic work? That’s right. You thought they were meetings, but in fact it was a performance with you as the audience. The target. The mark. That “studied indifference” about whether or not you joined? It was part of the act and it was designed to intensify your desire for acceptance. You too could become a member of the elite, through your own efforts and the payment of regular “donations” (how do you like that oxymoron, “compulsory donations”). Those weird coincidences? That’s proof the angels are working with the School and that you are on the way. If you lose the School, better for you if you had not been born. Would you like a Milano biscuit?

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