Cults, Survivors, and Red Flags

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America has long held a deep fascination with cults and out-there religious sects. We wonder how these groups manage to conjure up such power and influence. We watch as people (sometimes those we know and love) fall victim to a potent mix of control and their own deep desire to belong. We binge the TV series that probe into the inner workings of these groups.

And while the majority of these groups seem far, far away for residents of northern Michigan, two local groups accused of having cult-like patterns have made national headlines in recent months, in part thanks to documentaries putting them in the spotlight.

By November of last year, it seemed that all anyone in Traverse City or Leelanau County wanted to discuss was Escaping Twin Flames, the show that had rocketed to the top of Netflix’s offerings. The three-part documentary focused on what several people interviewed for the show described as the cult-like behavior of the “Twin Flames Universe.”

The Twin Flames Universe is an online community that promises to find true love for members in the form of unique soul connections. It was founded by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan (often calling themselves Divine instead of Ayan; Shaleia’s birth name is Megan Plante), who now have a home in a subdivision along M-22 in Leelanau County.

The series details how the Ayans claim to have a direct line to God and say they’re able to discern whether others have found their “twin flame.” Former members allege the Ayans amassed millions from supporters to fund a lavish lifestyle at the emotional expense of many current and former members.

The Ayans, who could not be reached for comment for this story, have on multiple occasions taken to social media to defend themselves.

“The allegations levied against Twin Flames Universe not only distort our true aims, methods and curriculums, but also misrepresent the autonomy of our community members, who are free to engage with our resources as they see fit,” they wrote in a Facebook post as the Netflix show surged in popularity.

Despite intense media attention on the couple’s alleged misdeeds, they don’t show any signs of riding off into the sunset. They are promoting a Twin Flames Universe “Spiritual Life Summit” to be held in June in Traverse City, setting off another social media firestorm.

Indeed, the local conversation keeps getting hotter. Traverse City’s own National Writers Series is bringing an event to the City Opera House on Thursday, Feb. 22, titled “Twin Flames: Burned! A Survivor and Cult Expert Speak Out.” The event features Keely Griffin, a survivor of the Twin Flames Universe, and Dr. Janja Lalich, a cult expert, who were both featured in the Netflix documentary.

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