BY SARAH BERMAN | VICE.COM
Lenae Burchell was all set to fly from Texas to Toronto in July 2019 to meet a couple who she credited with changing her life, and starting her down a healing path.
Since January 2019 Burchell had been a devoted member of an online spirituality school called Twin Flames Universe, led by two glassy-eyed Michigan YouTubers calling themselves Jeff and Shaleia. Burchell, a 30-year-old single mom, had bought tickets for a two-day “ascension workshop” in Canada the weekend of July 27 and 28. Marketing materials for the event promised participants would “experience heaven on Earth.” For Burchell, it was supposed to be a rare opportunity to meet the Twin Flames Universe founders for the first time.
Jeff and Shaleia, who previously went by the names Ender Ayanethos and Megan Plante, have released hundreds of online videos over the last five years about relationships, finding purpose, and fringe New Age concepts. The couple, who claim to share a special spiritual connection with God and each other, charge upwards of $4,000 for access to more exclusive videos, workshops, and one-on-one “mind alignment” therapies. Their videos and accompanying social media forums cater to viewers who feel lost and alone, and who want to find acceptance and true love.
Twin Flames Universe, also called Twin Flame Ascension School and LifePurposeClass.com, trades in a specific kind of true love that requires a belief in souls and reincarnation. The school claims to help students find their “twin flame,” a more intense version of a soul mate. “A twin flame is your best friend in the entire universe,” Jeff told YouTube viewers in 2017. “This person was designed for you by God, and you were designed for this person by God, to be your eternal companion… for all of eternity.”
Burchell says she quickly became one of the most committed Twin Flames students in the community, posting in the Facebook group regularly, watching new videos, and calling in to weekly group sessions on Google Hangouts. She spent as much as 30 hours a week, outside of her full-time government job and single-parenting duties, keeping up with coursework, building lists of potential new students, and making sales calls—all time she volunteered for no compensation. Burchell grew obsessed with attracting her suggested “twin flame”—a married man Burchell met at her gym. After repeated spiritual exercises that seemed to encourage fixation, she said she showed up at his work uninvited to prove her “alignment” with love and God. Burchell counts herself lucky that she was never arrested or subject to a restraining order—unlike other members of the group.
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