Twin Flames Universe holds covert Traverse City wedding


Locals work behind the scenes to spread awareness about cult

The Twin Flames Universe cult held a wedding on June 16 for Cristina Fernandez and Daniel Carboni at Hickory Hills in Traverse City. Photo from Facebook.

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

The photos and cell phone videos suggested a typical northern Michigan summer wedding: guests dressed to the nines and seated in outdoor chairs on a green lawn; microphones on a stage bedecked with flowers; off to the left, a cellist strums chords as a photographer roams the aisle; and behind the ceremony a giant white tent with a dance floor awaits for revelers to shake the night away.

This Instagram photo shows Twin Flames cult leaders Jeff and Shaleia Ayan in Suttons Bay last year.

But the wedding held between Daniel Carboni and Cristina Fernandez on Sunday, June 16, at the Lodge at Hickory Hills—Traverse City’s municipal-owned ski hill—was anything but typical. The nuptials were the culmination of a four-day “Spiritual Life Summit” held by the Twin Flames Universe or Church of Union, a new age relationship cult run by Suttons Bay residents Jeff and Shaleia Ayan. Their group gained infamy in November 2023 when Netflix released a scathing three-part series called “Escaping Twin Flames” which cast the Ayans—who now use the last name “Divine”—and their network as a controversial community that preys on people looking for love. The series, which at the time became the most viewed Netflix show nationwide, explores allegations of coercive control, indoctrination and abuse. (The Sun first reported on them in November.)

The Ayans are accused of charging their cult members thousands of dollars while pressing them into toxic relationships and manipulating their emotional and mental health struggles, pressuring members of the online community to cut ties with their own families, appealing to some to get sex changes, and dissuading members who suffer from depression from seeking mental health treatment (one later took her own life).

The summit, which cost between $500-$700 to attend and which planners cloaked in secrecy, took place June 13-16 with events at the Cathedral Barn at the Grand Traverse Commons, Great Wolf Lodge, and Hickory Hills. The lineup included Shaleia’s hyped “divine art show” on the opening day, workshops and panel discussions, and the Sunday wedding. To avoid detection, the organizers used alias names when they booked venues. A representative from one of the venues told the Sun they had no idea they were renting their space to the Twin Flames Universe.

The Hickory Hills wedding on June 16 was booked under the name “Ariel Corley,” Traverse City officials said after the Sun submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to learn the name of the applicant. It’s unclear what role, if any, Ariel Corley plays in the Twin Flames Universe. There are several Ariel Corleys in Michigan, as well as one who once studied in Sedona, Arizona, where Shaleia was living in 2012 (under her birth name Megan Plante) when she met Jeff Ayan online.

According to Carboni’s and Fernandez’s marriage license filed June 17 with Grand Traverse County, the wedding was officiated by José Sánchez, himself a “master certified ascension coach” with Twin Flames. The witnesses who signed the marriage license were fellow ascension coaches Michaila Sánchez and Christine Emerick. Emerick is also affiliated with Church of Union and has been listed as the cult’s chief operations officer. Sánchez’s mailing address outside of Traverse City is the same address associated with Emerick’s Church of Union.

Concerned citizens organize

The group’s secrecy and reluctance to share the locations of its Traverse City events beforehand with former Twin Flames members likely helped them bypass an effort by an informal group of concerned individuals who call themselves Citizens for the Prevention of Predatory Commerce (CPPC) to stop the spiritual life summit from happening here. (Twin Flames stopped selling tickets for the summit on May 23, even though the event wasn’t sold out.) Those citizens worked behind the scenes, contacting many venues in the Traverse City region and Leelanau County and encouraging them to exercise due diligence if contacted by Twin Flames Universe or Church of Union. At least two prominent local wedding venues refused to host Twin Flames after they were warned by CPPC.

According to emails sent by CPPC, which the group shared with the Sun, Twin Flames “targets vulnerable people—those with PTSD, disenfranchised members of the LGBTQ+ community, the lonely, the depressed, etc. It provides psychological services by presenting them as ‘coaching.’

“It uses a multi-level marketing model to enlist ‘Ascension Coaches’ who extol the teachings of its ‘guru’ (Jeff Divine) who proclaims to be Christ incarnate. He and his wife have legally changed their names three times and now reside near Suttons Bay. …

“This organization advertises that it will channel all income from the June event through the 501(c)3 ‘church.’ The following allegations have been filed with the IRS by CPPC: Church of Union acts as a ‘shell’ corporation that has been set up to evade federal taxes and enrich its officers who receive income as TFU Ascension Coaches. …

“By virtue of its own marketing materials, the ‘spiritual summit’ will be a sales event to coerce the vulnerable into signing up for high-priced Ascension Coaching so that they can find their divine Twin Flame union. CPPC believes this has every characteristic of fraud.”

Wearing red on stage to spite Jeff

On Feb. 22, the National Writers Series brought Dr. Janja Lalich, author of Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, and Twin Flames survivor Keely Griffin to the Traverse City Opera House for an event packed with drama, emotion and education about the nature of cults—both in the online world and pre-Internet. Sun editor Jacob Wheeler was the evening’s guest host and interviewed Lalich and Griffin onstage.

(Watch a video of the event here.)

Griffin and Lalich explained to a nearly sold-out audience why they believe Twin Flames is a harmful cult that appeals to young women in particular, and exerts financial, emotional and even sexual control over them.

“They’re taking women who never in their lives dreamed of being trans and convincing them to do [gender transition surgery],” said Lalich, herself a cult survivor during the 1970s and ’80s. “It’s tragic. And it’s right here in your backyard.”

Leaving a cult can be emotionally and financially difficult, added Lalich.

“You’ve cut yourself off from your family. Your whole life depends on you staying. You so deeply believe, you so deeply trust the leader. It’s like in the old days when a woman was in a domestic violence situation and people would say, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’”

Griffin told the Traverse City audience why she finally left Twin Flames.

“It took six months of me seeing red flags and seeing the suffering of what people were going through. I became paranoid, depressed and anxious. I didn’t know who I was anymore. But there was so much I couldn’t unsee, I had to leave.”

At the City Opera House, Griffin wore a red dress she found at Goodwill because she knew “This color will piss off Jeff. He never liked people, especially women, dressing in powerful colors. He wants all the power. I wore this dress just to spite him.”

Griffin warned that, despite the scathing publicity Twin Flames has received, Jeff and Shaleia Ayan maintain a vision of buying property in northern Michigan and establishing a communal living situation among their members. The cult may have gained more followers since November when the Netflix series aired. Griffin suggested that several dozen people may move to the region, and if the Ayans get their way, many more will follow.

Griffin described the “spiritual life summit” that happened this month in Traverse City as Ayan’s “big middle finger to this community and to the world” after all the negative press Twin Flames has received.

Griffin and Lalich pushed back against popular myths such as that “cult members are stupid” or that people don’t understand “how someone could join a cult.” Cult leaders target and prey on people who are smart and driven, people who can become their spokespeople, their recruitment vessels, said Griffin.

“It’s not stupid, crazy weird people who get into cults,” said Lalich. The cult leaders “are not gonna take care of you. You’re there to take care of them.”

A drive-by showdown in Suttons Bay

Griffin admitted that she felt nervous visiting the region where the leaders of her former cult live. Indeed, she and Lalich asked for tight security at the Opera House including the use of metal detector wands at the front door. But several hours before the event, National Writers Series executive director Anne Stanton drove her and Lalich to Suttons Bay and up the road where the Ayans live.

It was a foggy day with low visibility, and out of the mist the three saw Jeff, Shaleia, and their baby walking on the side of the road. Out of fear, Griffin ducked down in the back of the car. But Stanton drove a loop and encouraged the survivor to be brave. On their second pass by the cult leaders, Griffin popped her head out of the car and waved to them.

“Jeff was not happy. He looked extremely angry,” she said, as the Opera House audience applauded her. “Today was monumental for me. I faced Jeff today.”

During her brief stay in Traverse City in February, including the evening after the National Writers Series event, when we decamped for beers and gyros at the U&I Lounge, Griffin was approached over and over again by locals who thanked her for her courage to travel here, face her tormentors and speak out.