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Twin Flames Survivor, Cult Expert to Visit

Traverse City’s National Writers Series

Megan Thoreson
Staff Writer

Dr. Janja Lalich, an authority on cults and author of Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, and Keely Griffin, a survivor from the Twin Flames Universe “love cult”, will share their experiences as part of the National Writers Series on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 pm at the City Opera House in Traverse City. Guest host Jacob Wheeler recently covered the Suttons Bay-based cult in the Glen Arbor Sun.

While Twin Flames Universe takes center stage at the City Opera House, the local cult claims it will host a “Spiritual Life Summit” in-person gathering June 13-16 with early bird tickets already sold out. The event will allegedly host workshops to manifest your “twin flame,” and will also be the location of a twin flame wedding on the fourth day. No location has been announced at this time. Several regional venues have reportedly turned down Twin Flames’ request to host the summit.

Despite the overwhelming amount of bad press Twin Flames Universe has received following a scathing Netflix documentary in mid-November 2023, the cult is still alive and thriving with a reported 14,000 members. Visited by a reporter at their house near Suttons Bay, Twin Flames leaders Jeff and Shaleia Ayan declined to comment on the current state of their organization, on the summit, or on the National Writers Series event.

“In my opinion, this group is harmful and potentially dangerous for many reasons,” Lalich said about Twin Flames. “Twin Flames is a high control group that exploits its followers monetarily, spiritually, and sexually. From pressuring followers to stalk their ‘twin flame’ to transitioning their gender, Jeff and Shaleia exercise an immense amount of control over the victims’ pocketbooks, minds, and actions.”

Lalich expounded on the use of the word cult. “There is a continuum that a cult falls within, from relatively benign to highly dangerous. But similar patterns appear across all cults. While Twin Flames is no Jonestown, all cults employ the same cookie-cutter strategies and tactics. They tend to separate their followers from their friends and families, isolate them, and through methods of indoctrination get them to buy into the philosophy or the ‘answer to all their problems’ so that they will carry out the will of the cult leader without question (e.g., raise money, recruit, run the cult’s business). In essence, cults have nothing to do with religion; yet, many claim to be a religion so that they can hide behind the First Amendment in order to protect themselves against investigation.”

Lalich hopes to use her and Griffin’s appearance at the National Writers Series to educate the public about the danger of cults.

“Keely and I have slightly different motives for attending and speaking at the National Writers Series later this month,” she wrote in a statement. “My hope and role for the last 30-plus years has been to educate people on the subject because everyone could fall victim to a cult. Some want to say: ‘Those people do all that of their own volition and choice’; but free will is out the window when we’re talking about cults.

“Cult leaders are very good at making you think it’s your own idea. Knowing how cults operate empowers individuals to recognize the behavior of cults and their leaders, the red flags, which may prevent a future follower from falling victim. Keely is being incredibly brave and will shed light on things that weren’t covered in the documentaries. It’s her story and her insider knowledge that she’ll be sharing.”

NMC Philosophy and Communications instructor Sarah Montgomery-Richards urged caution when labeling organizations such as Twin Flames as cults.

“It’s really important to ask questions. When we see labels like ‘cult’ we need to ask who is doing the labeling and why they are doing it,” said Montgomery-Richards. “That word bothers me as an academic and I am careful when I use it, I try to avoid inflammatory language and labels, I would call Twin Flames a new religious movement. As such, religious tolerance and equality should be considered. If it is a religion, they should have the same rights and privileges as any other religion.

“While I personally don’t agree with or believe that all the things that they are doing are necessarily positive, there are things that they are doing that very well established religions engage in. Scientology offers community and a worldview that connects aggregates to the divine, but they also sell products and services. Is it a religion or not? Its followers say it is. Defining that has been the discussion of religious academics for years and likely will not be resolved any time soon. To adopt a broad view of it suddenly invites many things to become a religion, while narrowing it could exclude others.”

“Twin Flames also isn’t the first to sell matchmaking services to the public. But I try to maintain an objective viewpoint as an academic. As a comparative religionist I try to bracket my subjective feelings about a movement to look at the facts. And that is what I encourage all of my students to do, consider your research and ask questions before joining any movement, for that matter. Knowledge is power.”

Photo courtesy of Hannah Gaither

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