Hello and welcome to the the Fellowship of Friends discussion. The article that you will find beneath was written by me about a year ago, since then this blog has been functioning as a neutral ground for people to discuss the organisation. There are hundreds of comments to go through so make sure that you have the time. Feel free to skip the initial article and move to the actual discussion, which is far more enlightening.
This is part 1 of the discussion.
For part 2 click here.
For part 3 click here.
For part 4 click here.
For part 5 click here.
For part 6 click here.
For part 7 click here.
For part 8 click here.
For part 9 click here.
For part 10 click here.
The newest development has been the formation of a blog specifically designed to host the discussion, here it is: Fellowship of Friends Blog.
My visit to the Fellowship of Friends (written a year ago and not changed since)
I have had a very interesting experience today, I visited an informal presentation of the Fellowship of Friends (http://www.apollo.org/) to listen to their take on the Fourth Way teachings – teachings of Gurdjieff and his disciple Ouspensky. I am full of mixed feelings, I have just finished doing some rather extensive research on the Fellowship and the results were not happy, thus meeting some of my fears and intensifying my distrust of this cult.
I will structure this entry in the following manner: section 1) will deal with my visit to the Fellowship as it happened, with no added judgements; section 2) will try to put things into context using my additional research; section 3) will include my personal opinions on the visit, on the Fellowship etc.
1) The Fellowship headquarters in London are suited in a rather nice part of northern London, in an area that is much more beautiful and green than most, one that offers a rather enchanting landscape view of a small part of London which is otherwise hidden from sight.
The day of my visit to the Fellowship was a nice sunny day and many times was I forced to stop and take in the magnificent view. When I was nearing the house where the presentation was supposed to take place, I was overtaken by an old red car, most of it brightly painted over with psychedelic imagery, esoteric symbolism and pictures of tribal people drumming and dancing. I knew I was going in the right direction. And as I arrived at the end of my journey, there stood the inhabitants of the car – a large bald man with a green sweather and 3 massive crystal necklaces, a lady with hair the colours of the rainbow, and another lady who was slightly less outgoing and whose appearance therefore slipped my mind. I wrongly took them for the presenters at first, for they were just humble visitors, same as me.
I knocked on the door of a fairly large suburban house and was let in by a man of Eastern looks – a mixture of Russian and Arab features. He was dressed in a very expensive pastel suit, his looks could not have been any more perfect. He was the doorman – so you can imagine what the rest of the troupe who were to entertain us looked like. I went through to the living room and into the meeting chamber. There were smartly dressed people everywhere – most of them in their late 30s or 40s, all of them with easy manners, slight charm but also arrogance. I was seated on a chair and had a second to properly take in my surroundings. The house was beautiful – very tasteful, beautiful paintings, statues and other art, all in perfect position – everything looked very stylish and upper-class.
There were 3 men – or rather one 30+ years old man and two young men in their twenties, both of them with great expectations and slight naivity easily readable on their faces. I was to find out that the young men were brothers from Poland who came to find out more about the esoteric knowledge that this group had to offer. The older man was a new member of the Fellowship, his acting skills were not yet as highly developed as his colleagues’ therefore he came across as a rather down-to-earth kind of man. We briefly talked and I was happy to see some common interests between us, yet slightly disappointed by the two young men (who seemed intelligent but far too naive and unguarded not to be easily manipulated). We were later joined by a beautiful young woman either from Italy or Spain, also smartly dressed, who kept our company for a minute or two and fueled many sexual fantasies and desires for the two boys just by her presence. I was, of course, untouched. As long as falling in love on the first sight does not count.
Then came time for the presentation itself. We were seated by the man who was to chair the event – he moved us several times until he was certain that the ‘energy in the room was properly distributed’. This was a pretty funny event – adults were told to sit at other places, move their chairs, swap places and such – all of this I believe was meant to put us at ease. Then came the time for introductions.
The presenters were numerous and picked so that as many different types were represented – the main presenter was an English man, aristocrat appearance and an old-school beige suit, he had piercing eyes and a deep enchanting voice, he was the most charismatic manipulator I have ever met. His entourage consisted of an intellectual American (not an oxymorom), scruffy yet perfectly dressed Scottsman, the beautiful south-western European woman, 2 pretty older women (one English, one foreign) and about 3 other British men. All of them perfectly dressed, if in a rather eighteenth century kind of way.
The visitors were as follows: me, the 3 inhabitants of the psychedelic car, an unhealthy fat English lady interested in lucid dreaming, the two Poles, an uneasy scared Brit and possibly one or two others.
There were also some other Fellowship members who were not presenting and two Russians/Arabs in incredibly expensive summer suits who looked like bodyguards. The member:non-member ratio was roughly 2:1.
The presentation started and the basic ideas were put forward:
- there are 4 levels of consciousness going from the lowest to the highest: sleep, being awake (still asleep), awareness of oneself, and the final 4th state. The first state is experienced while dreaming, the second state is experienced while we are awake, yet it is like a dream in that we behave like robots – there is no self, no will and we react to outside influences in pre-programmed ways. These first two states are the only states experiencable without some heavy work on one-self. The third state usually happens once in one’s life and can be accessed again through techniques taught by the school. Through being in the third state continuosly one can access the fourth state and awaken. The only truly awakened is Robert Burton, the founder of the Fellowship;
- you can not achieve awakening on your own – you need a teacher who is farther down the road than yourself;
- awakening is the only way to keep on living after death – the only way to an after-life;
- psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are useless and wrong – they are a false science – the only way to cure oneself is through awakening oneself.
There were more ideas put through but I forgot what they consisted of. Something about turning negative feelings and emotions into positive energy (and self-awareness) and similar. The main speaker also made us do a short simple exercise on attention – the idea was that through being attentative (through ‘being in the room’) one can experience oneself experiencing his surroundings – what he sees, hears,… Through this split-awareness one can train oneself to fully experience everything and by prolonging this state one can enter the 3rd state of consciousness. – Readers who are aware of the concept of mindfulness or the teachings of Gurdjieff will understand.
Overall, a very interesting presentation – some things made sense, others were slightly absurd(such as that angels exist and talk with certain special individuals). I don’t know how much of it was taken from Gurdjieff or Ouspensky since I never read them. I suppose that much was added by Burton – probably a fair amount.
Then came time for questions which were answered in such a way as to create more interest in the subject, a genuine wish to find out more about the teachings. Manipulator galore. The idea that these teachings (and this school) were the only way to salvation were very quietly and with great skill fed to the listeners – mainly the idea that only the awakened will be given after-life. I asked why this school was more relevant than the other esoteric schools and before I even finished the last syllable I was answered that this school wasn’t more relevant – the only thing that was relevant was that at that moment I was in the Fourth Way school. All questions were treated as if they were trivial and did not deserve any time from the presenters.
Then came time for snacks, tea, coffee and informal conversation. I tried to talk to the guy who chaired the meeting but he quickly threw me in the direction of other members – he wasn’t wishing to talk to any non-members any more. So I found the American presenter and started a conversation with him, this is what I found:
– my personal mystical experiences were unknown to him, he did not understand them when I tried to explain them to him; that in itself is strange since most people who dabble in this area usually know what I am talking about;
– psychedelic drugs are not allowed in the Fellowship, they are viewed as a means to attaining higher states of consciousness in the short-term but they have negative effect in the long-term;
– there are supposedly 2 people in Britain who attained a permanent 3rd state of consciousness (he called it ‘crystallization’ I think), they were not present at the presentation;
– he said that he joined the Fellowship when he was 22 and that it’s a good time to start studying at a school and that the Fellowship changed his life. To that I replied that I have already had my life-changing experience and that I don’t think that my road is the same as that of the Fellowship, and that I did not agree with the Fellowship policy to take 10% of one’s annual revenue as membership payment each year since attainement of higher states of consciousness should be taught for free. To that he replied that I am not the only one to think that but that there were reasons for that fee (to show people’s willingness to suffer in order to prosper spiritually, and to use the fees to fund the school) and that if I choose not to join I should just keep on following the coincidences that have been happenin to me. Sound advice.
So I left without saying my goodbyes. It was a strange experience, god knows if it was positive or negative.
2) You might have gathered on your own that the Fellowship is a bit of a cult. Just how bad it is can be gathered from here:
The leader is quite definitely insane, a paedophile, brainwasher and manipulator. And he’s good. He likes people to dress up nice and smart, he doesn’t like people to joke, he hates smoking and, just for good measure, he dislikes pre-marital sex and homosexuality. That’s coming from a man who has had several lawsuits filed against him for forced homosexual acts. He also believes that he talks with 44 angels – including Jesus, Franklin and Goethe. Rock on Burton!!! Sadly enough this madman has managed to attract around 2000 followers.
3) This is the hard part. I hate to say it but some of the people I met in the Fellowship were incredibly inteligent, well-versed in esoteric studies, knowledgable and possibly quite far on the self-exploration path. They seemed to have that ‘it’ that serious students of alternate states of consciousness, the inner and outer realities, acquire after time. Doesn’t bode well with the cultist reality of the Fellowship but that’s what I was getting from them. After reading some more on these things I have to say that most of it was probably an act. The arrogance felt from the members of the Fellowship towards the listeners can be explained by the belief of these people that whoever is not a member is a worthless robot who deserves nothing from the superior members. This is a belief that is taught as a part of the teachings of the Fellowship of Friends, it always results in alienation from one’s family, friends, partner – you name it.
So be warned – there are better Gurdjieff organisations, other schools and other teachers. Cults should never be trifled with! I believe that an integral part of a personal journey is the (sub-conscious) search for a teacher, it would be a mistake to learn from false prophets. So don’t be attracted by easy gains, it’s better to wait for the real deal than to join a cult that offers the ‘perfect’ self-betterment practices. I have come across most of the techniques that were briefly talked about in the presentation at other places. One of the techniques that the Fellowship uses to attract new members is by putting Fellowship bookmarks into books in esoteric bookstores and libraries. Coincidence? – hardly.
So what is the lesson of the day? Always be sceptical, don’t trust or believe anything and let things happen as they wish. Your mission is to deal with it afterwards, integrate it and learn from it. Don’t let people manipulate you! And if you ever run out of money start a cult and put your esoteric knowledge to good use (as Burton did).