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REVIEW: ‘Escaping Twin Flames’ shows the scary truth of modern cult

Photo+courtesy+of+Netflix
Photo courtesy of Netflix

“Escaping Twin Flames” is a documentary miniseries about the Twin Flames Universe cult. Despite the long title, the series is relatively short, spanning only three episodes but managing to recount the entire working history of the cult in a few short hours. 

The series is not to be confused with the Amazon series “Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe,” which covers the same group and was also released in 2023. “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” features testimonials from different members and delves more into the financial aspects of the cult. I have yet to finish the Amazon series, but it seems to be of better quality overall. 

Unlike other cults whose stories have been recounted countless times, the Twin Flames Universe cult is relatively recent — and is still up and running. The group, which denies its classification as a cult, was formed in 2017 when couple Jeff and Shaleia Divine (obviously not their legal last name) decided to share their love with the world. 

The concept of a twin flame is popular in new age spirituality, though it originated in 1886 in Marie Corelli’s “A Romance of Two Worlds.” The related concept of “twin rays” was employed heavily by the “I AM” movement, a religious movement founded by Edna and Guy Ballard. The “I AM” Activity Movement was founded in and mildly popular throughout the 1930s, with up to a million followers in 1938, but now has very few members. It is credited with being the first “Ascended Masters” movement but is not classified as a cult. 

The show does not offer much context for spirituality movements and new age religious groups, but I think that works well for the series. As an audience member, you get tossed right in. I think approaching the series with an open mind, the way the members likely did when they stumbled across the Twin Flames Universe, makes the storytelling more powerful. 

This miniseries was the first time I had heard of this cult and the first time I had heard “twin flame” used outside of niche circles. 

Although the terms are often used interchangeably within the vernacular of Twin Flames Universe, a twin flame differs from a soulmate by most definitions: while a soulmate is your one true love, your twin flame is someone with whom you will share a powerful connection that can easily border on toxic. While soulmates are compatible, they differ in personality, while twin flames can be so similar that they reveal hidden parts of their counterpart. 

Again, the miniseries does not really give much information about how the definitions can differ, but I also think this advances the series. Overall, it feels closed off from the world as the series progresses and the cult’s subjects grow more and more dependent on Twin Flames Universe. 

Sources of conflict within twin flames usually derive from similarities, but Twin Flames Universe strives to bring the twin flames closer together and push past these conflicts. A big caveat to the cult’s system is that one’s twin flame, for the most part, is someone within the relatively small group.

Twin flames Jeff and Shaleia, founders of Twin Flames Universe, stress that those within the cult will have one twin flame. While you can have multiple soulmates, you will have only one twin flame, and you have to make it work despite all odds. 

One member of Twin Flame Ascension school was told that her twin flame was an older man that made her very uncomfortable while another was charged with a restraining order against her designated twin flame. On both accounts, the girls were urged to keep pursuing their twin flame and, therefore, keep paying Jeff and Shaleia for their services, which were similar to classes within the Church of Scientology (which has a Wichita chapter, by the way).  

Like many cults, Twin Flames Universe pushes to remove members from their biological family and other support systems. In this instance, the group stressed that your birth family was not your “soul family.” In order to devote your entire self to your twin flame, you couldn’t let your life force be drained by your actual family — Jeff even convinced one member that she had been abused by her family her entire life, which she revealed in the documentary was not true. Amazing testimonials littered throughout the series keep you on the edge of your seat till the final credits roll. 

Twin Flames Universe targeted lonely people looking for love and exploited them for money and power. Many of these lonely people wore their hearts on their sleeve for these interviews. Some of them were completely raw and emotional. Combined with real footage of them in online meetings with Jeff and Shaleia, usually being berated and dehumanized, made some of the scenes hard to watch. 

One aspect of this series that I like more than the Amazon original series, “Desperately Seeking Soulmate,” is the usage of “Desperately” in the title. As these very real people’s stories unfold, you realize they’re anything but desperate. Lonely and lost, yes, but to paint these victims as desperate feels in poor taste, when in reality Jeff and Shaleia were the ones who were desperate for money and power. 

Although Twin Flames Universe was Christian in origin, they used new age spirituality buzzwords to attract people of all belief systems. One of the primary beliefs is that everyone is either a “divine masculine” or “divine feminine” spirit, with their twin flame being the opposite role. Jeff and Shaleia used these terms to uphold some really weird ideas within the group, most of which are revealed in the last three episodes. 

  • Most people’s spirit was associated with their birth gender (females, which the group was mostly composed of, were usually assigned the divine feminine), but at least one person was pressured to socially and medically transition to the opposite gender to better suit their divine masculine spirit.
  • The divine feminine was created to serve the divine masculine, which Jeff showed by interrupting and insulting Shaleia on multiple occasions throughout the series.
  • Another couple, consisting of two straight women with one told she was divine feminine and one told she was divine masculine, expressed that neither of them were attracted to the other and tried to deny their twin flame status. 
  • Gay relations were accepted in the group, but only within pairings of one divine masculine and one divine feminine — one testimonial of the series claimed that the dichotomy upheld heteronormative ideals. 
  • Bisexuality was not accepted within the group, as it was believed that you could not be attracted to both masculinity and femininity. These views were not at all related to biblical Christianity as Jeff often abandoned traditional Christian values to appoint himself as a messiah-like figure. 

The show delves more into these intricate rules of personal identity within the last episode, which I think was an interesting choice. In a way, the viewer is left wanting more, but we are also taken down the slippery slope of being inside the Twin Flames Universe. 

The cult, although it may seem like a lowkey worship group at first, quickly devolves into an obvious multi-level marketing gimmick, better known as a pyramid scheme. The financial aspects of the group are elaborated on more and more as the miniseries progresses after the audience has a firm idea of the core values the group was founded on. 

Looking objectively at the style and quality of the documentary, it’s just not great. Serious scenes are often spliced with fuzzy hand-drawn animated panels that break the viewer’s experience. My understanding is that this was probably to cover scenes in which there was no proper footage, but it definitely pulls the audience away from the horrors of the cult. 

Because of this and a few other things that made the show feel amateur, the style of the series feels more like a reality TV show like “Catfish” than a limited documentary series. Still, the gripping content of the cult makes up for it.

The series features a surprising amount of real footage, ranging from screen recordings of online meetings to talking head testimonials. Clearly, a lot of former cult members were disgruntled enough to show their faces and reveal their (very personal) stories to millions of viewers on Netflix. 

Despite a few questionable artistic choices, the series was overall really interesting to watch throughout. “Escaping Twin Flames” is definitely worth watching in one sitting on a weekend afternoon, paired with a few hours of online research immediately after.

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About the Contributor
Sascha Harvey, Opinion Editor
Sascha Harvey is the opinon editor for The Sunflower. A junior majoring in graphic design, this is Harvey's third year on staff and second year as a section editor. He is originally from Arkansas but has no accent to speak of (unless you listen really hard). The graphic design major enjoys covering feature stories and local news. Harvey uses he/him pronouns.

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