ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Controversial TwinRay organization closes doors on The Haven in downtown Ashland

Akasha Sanandaji and Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst embrace during the grand opening of The Haven in downtown Ashland in August 2022. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
July 3, 2024

‘It’s very sophisticated manipulation’: Former follower says she was exploited out of money, given psychedelics at retreats

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

“The devil doesn’t always show up with red, pointy horns, it shows up as everything you’ve ever wanted.”

That’s how a Bay area woman who chooses to go by Sarai recalls the owners of The Haven, Akasha Sananandaji and Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst, who shuttered the storefront doors on Sunday for good following months of media coverage about followers calling them out as a cult. Sarai and other former followers have alleged financial and emotional exploitation as well as being offered psychedelic drugs at retreats to help them reach an elevated spiritual state.

The 10,000-square-foot store space, once home to Earthly Goods, is in a prominent Craftsman building in the heart of downtown, sharing a block with the Varsity Theatre, Ashland Springs Hotel and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. The building owner says it’s up for lease in August.

The Haven, operated by TwinRay, occupied a prominent downtown retail location nearby the Varsity Theatre, at left. Ashland.news photo by Bert Etling

Closing up the storefront, which has sold an array of expensive elixirs, crystals and clothing at 142 E. Main St., may curb in-store operations overseen by Sanandaji and Shekinah Ma Kryst, also known as the owners of religious nonprofit TwinRay Illuminations, but online sales are expected to continue, management told Ashland.news.

The Haven store, open since 2022, was only one part of the mission of Sanandaji and Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst. 

“It felt like … we were part of this movement — this really powerful, spiritual movement that we were going to save humanity,” Sarai told Ashland.news.

Sarai said Sanandaji talked a lot about working toward bringing in what he called the “Golden Age.”

“It was all about, ‘We’re creating the Golden Age,’” she said.

“It’s very sophisticated manipulation,” she added.

Sarai said she has lost more than $80,000 in retirement savings while seeking to become a member of TwinRay’s “Golden Ascendantship Program,” the name for the mentoring-for-a-price program to become one of the couples’ 12 close followers, or what Sarai refers to as “devotees.”

Sarai sent Ashland.news more than 20 receipts for services TwinRay provided, including one for $7,777 for a TwinRay retreat in Mount Shasta, astrology classes for $333, “alchemical water” for $111 each.

Sanandaji and Miananda Shekinah Kryst, also known as Shekinah Ma, have been the subject of community discussion for some time since the store’s opening in September 2022. Their notoriety has only grown as accusations of former followers have emerged, including in April when Guru Magazine published a story by cult journalist Be Scofield, the author of “Hunting Lucifer: One Reporter’s Search for Cults and Demons.” Her original reporting led to the new HBO series on the Love Has Won cult. Her work is cited by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, People, Netflix and more, according to Guru Magazine.

Leah Sottile’s story for Oregon Public Broadcasting (“The TwinRay mystery: A spiritual group in Ashland raises eyebrows and worries,” May 2024) is among subsequent stories about TwinRay.

The 10-sided, double-story great room of the former Circle of Teran property at 3300 Butler Creek Road later owned for a time by the TwinRay organization has a marble fireplace, butterfly staircase and interior balcony, according to a 2018 article in Oregonlive.com, which said this photo was furnished by the original owner via Karen Logan of HomeQuest Realty.
Downtown TwinRay store closes

A message posted to The Haven’s front door signed only by “The Haven team” shares appreciation to the community. 

“Our lease is now up for renewal and while we have decided not to renew it, we’re excited for what is next,” the statement reads. 

“The closing of (The) Haven here means Big sales and smiles for you,” the statement added.

Signs showcased in the storefront windows in recent weeks said crystals were 35% off.

Hours of operation were also scaled back to just weekend hours from noon to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

Representatives of the store declined to share how many employees the store employs.

Sanandaji and Shekinah Ma Kryst have not returned a request for comment via email as of publication.

The Haven, a store owned by Akasha Sanandaji and Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst in downtown Ashland, closed its doors — and meditation rooms — for good on Sunday. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
Business details

Jackson County records show that Sanandaji and Shekinah Ma Kryst owned the property at Golden Age Temple Sanctuary, a retreat center located on the outskirts of Ashland at 3300 Butler Creek Road, between 2020 and 2023. They defaulted on the mortgage of the house, owing $1.6 million plus interest, according to county records.

The purchase price for the property was $2.6 million on Sept. 9, 2020. At the time, the assessed value was $2,155,369. The most recent available assessed value estimation is $2,778,047, as of 2023.

A former director of Krystal Star in London

Akasha Sanandaji, whose birth name, records say, is Harley Forster, was director of London-based Krystal Star Creations Limited, a wellness company incorporated in 2005 by New Zealand-born guru Christof Melchizedek, according to business records.

Sanandaji claims to have studied under Babaji, who is said to be an immortal Indian yogi, guru and saint, according to Yogipedia, which also describes him as  living in the northern Himalayas as “deathless embodiment of the Divine in human form.” 

Miananda Shekinah’s birth name is Mia Terez Deuschle, according to Sarai. Previously an actress, Miananda Shekinah has said she entered into a coma and was brought back to life in 2010, reincarnated as the “Divine Mother.”

Sarai told Ashland.news she attended multiple retreats as an ascendant or close follower of TwinRay between 2017 and 2021, including in Ashland, Mount Shasta, Hawaii and Mexico. Sarai paid to receive “plant medicine” elixirs that she found later contained what she believes were psychedelic drugs, which caused her to experience hallucinations. 

She visited Ashland to sit down with Ashland.news in-person and share her first-hand experiences with the people she once trusted with her spiritual life.

Sarai said Sanandaji refers to himself as “Divine Father,” noting that the TwinRay couple would refer to Sarai as their daughter.

The pair painted themselves to Sarai as divine beings with significant authority.

“They say they have a spiritual age of over a million years while all of their students are less than a hundred years old,” Sarai told Ashland.news.

Sanandaji stated in a YouTube video that he and Shekinah Ma are “one being in two bodies.”

The TwinRay website says that their “sole mission through sharing tools, transmissions and wisdom teachings is to help empower as many people as possible to free themselves from suffering and realize their true purpose and innate gifts so they may help free others.” 

In this way, TwinRay leaders said they help support humanity’s entrance into “the Golden Age, an era that has been long prophesied as marking the true manifestation of peace on earth, and peace within, for all of humanity.”

In addition, the TwinRay site says they operate a “global academy” with advanced teachings of mastery in “genetic liberation,” a monthly miracle mentorship group, one-on-one guidance programs, and what they describe as “powerful healing certifications” offering meaningful livelihoods, and “turning seekers into seers.”

Following the release of the article by Scofield, TwinRay defender Scott Catamas says he went to the couple and asked them, “Who are you?”

In a YouTube video, Catamas says they responded, “We’re whoever you want us to be… We could be your teachers, we could be your friends, we could be your family — you get to choose.”

Catamas, who has repeatedly come to the defense of the TwinRay couple, has also had to defend himself. California court records show he pleaded guilty to felony charges of pimping and pandering in Ventura County and was sentenced in 2003 to three years in prison. Catamas could not be reached for additional comment.

The Haven owners Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst, center, and Akasha Sanandaji, right, speak with a woman during their grand opening in 2022. The Haven closed its doors Sunday. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
TwinRay tax filings

TwinRay was incorporated in Oregon on Aug. 27, 2020, by Sanandaji and Shekinah as a domestic nonprofit, according to the Oregon Secretary of State website.

Sanandaji and Shekinah incorporated in California in 2018, as a religious nonprofit.

Their corporation has filed IRS returns showing the following revenue:

$302,979 in revenue, with $245,602 in total profit, in 2018

•  $1,241,333 in revenue, with $222,250 in total profit, in 2019

$2,462,395 in revenue, with $1,877,41 in total profit, in 2020, along with $1,849,720 in total assets minus liabilities 

“They have found every loophole in the law so that they’re not held accountable,” Sarai said. “They’re a ‘religious organization, it’s a sacrament’ … so they are exempt from everything. … It’s immoral, it has no integrity, but they’ve figured out how to do it.”

Former followers call TwinRay ‘controlling’ over thoughts, emotions

Sarai told Ashland.news that the TwinRay couple’s closest devotees are instructed to listen to them in all facets of their lives, without question or doubt.

“Their methods are most damaging because they are placing themselves as the ultimate authority controlling the behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions of their followers,” Sarai said in an email to Ashland.news. 

“They really are … feeding off the people of Ashland,” she said in an interview. 

She describes Sanandaji as a “mentalist” and gave examples of what, as a follower, she calls “mind control.”

Sarai detailed to Ashland.news that followers are taught to relinquish any doubt or negative thought from their minds, and made to feel ashamed if they ever think negatively of the couple.

“He very much reads the (energy) field … when it was a small group, he would literally say what I was thinking,” Sarai said. “That drew me in because I was like, ‘Wow, how did he know that?’”

Sanandaji compared to cult leader David Koresh

“Awaken your mind to discover who you truly are and free yourself from suffering,” the TwinRay website states.

“You’re not alone. Welcome home,” says another part of the website.

Sarai was first drawn to the teachings of Akasha Sanandaji before his partnership even began with Shekinah.  

Sarai recalls Sanandaji being very persuasive when she first met him. 

“When I look back, nothing he introduced was really anything new,” she added. “He just took everybody else’s stuff, all the energy healing techniques, all the information out there (and) he kind of just synthesized it.”

She likened him to cult leader David Koresh, who, along with more than 80 followers, including women and children, blockaded themselves in a compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

Sarai also told Ashland.news that there were other similarities between Sanandaji and Shekinah and Koresh, a leader of the Branch Davidians. Both stated they could “open” the “Seven Seals” referenced in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. TwinRay said on its website they are “holders of the Davidic and Enochian Line of Alchemy.”

“Each class was about one of the seven chakras, however, at the end of the class was coded artwork and sound that he stated involved opening of a seal for a total of seven seals,” Sarai said, “so the first class was about the root chakra and culminated with the opening of the first seal by looking at a piece of artwork, doing an invocation, and the use of a sound bowl.”

Text in Revelation 5, 6 and 8 describe the Seven Seals. According to the Bible, only Jesus Christ is worthy of opening the scrolls.

Sarai also said Sanandaji told her and others during a “Golden Age energetics” class that he could open the Seven Seals.

“The same thing David Koresh did,” Sarai said. “David Koresh was all about the Seven Seals.”

In her view, what TwinRay promised was fraudulent, and emotionally and mentally damaging to herself and others.

“It’s almost like the second coming (of Christ) in like a Disney, fairytale fashion,” Sarai said. “He would weave in like the teachings of Jesus and a lot of ancient teachings and he would also talk about the science of bioenergetics.”

Sarai had been learning about spirit guides and energy healing techniques and the different wisdom traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Celtic traditions.

Sarai said she quickly noticed that the TwinRay leaders’ words didn’t match their actions.

For instance, Sarai said Sanandaji and Shekinah Ma would say that money wasn’t their domain, but then, Sanandaji, she said, would predict to followers what the stock market would do.

In an email to Ashland.news, Sarai shared further details of her interactions with Shekinah Ma.

“She has often mentioned being able to control the weather,” Sarai wrote. “When we were (at a retreat) in Kauai, it was a nice sunny day for us on the boat and she said all the people commented how it had been raining nonstop and she took credit for creating the sunny day for us.”

Sarai also wrote that when she attended an Ashland retreat, “it was raining and we had to all squeeze inside the small dome to eat on the last few days, it was very messy and uncomfortable.”

During the same retreat, she said people were stuck outside in over a hundred-degree heat for hours and hours.  

“They wouldn’t let anyone in the temple space and they were safely tucked away in their chambers,” Sarai said.

“It’s so ironic it’s a promise of freedom because it’s a huge trap,” Sarai said.

Sarai said she and others were told not to talk to anyone outside of the TwinRay community during retreats, but especially not to talk to family members who are not supporting their ascension.

“They’re isolating you from all your family and friends, because they’re ‘the only path to ascension and liberation,’” Sarai said. “They isolate the members of the community because they’re always preaching silence.”

“They’re actually isolating people from their own intuition,” Sarai added. “They’re separating people from their own guidance.”

The Haven, a store owned by Akasha Sanandaji, left, and Miananda Shekinah Ma Kryst, right, in downtown Ashland, closed its doors — and meditation rooms — for good on Sunday. The pair, known as TwinRay, are accused of leading a cult and exploiting followers out of money as well as using psychedelic drugs at retreats. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
Canadian father of a former TwinRay follower speaks out

Not being able to stay in regular contact with his daughter was a concern for Michel Dubé, whose adult daughter only recently shared plans with him to leave TwinRay and return to Canada. 

“(TwinRay) wasn’t fulfilling her needs, (wasn’t) totally fulfilling what they were professing to deliver,” Dubé said.

He spoke with representatives from the Lalich Center for cult survivors and has sought other supportive assistance surrounding cults in Canada.

Dubé, who lives in Saskatchewan, told Ashland.news via phone in June he’s been concerned since his adult daughter joined the group in Ashland last year. In the past few months, Dubé said she has plans to see him in July.

Last summer, Dubé visited his daughter in Pennsylvania where she was living at the time. She had just been to an Ashland retreat, Dubé said, and was telling him about it.

“At the time, she had expressed a desire to return to Ashland for another retreat of some kind,” he said.

When she later did attend another TwinRay retreat in Ashland, he started to be more concerned.

“I had worries about financial exploitation,” Dubé said, among other concerns. “It was definitely worrisome to know that we weren’t able to dialogue anymore as a father and daughter because she was becoming more and more integrated into this type of spirituality.”

He sees it as more of a “brainwashing” than a quest for spirituality.

“We weren’t able to speak on any common, day-to-day things that affect human lives,” Dubé said.

That included topics like the economy, politics, health, the environment — things they normally talked about.

“It was more and more difficult to understand where she was going,” he said.

Dubé wasn’t sure where his daughter was living while she was a follower of TwinRay, either.

“That obviously worried me quite a bit,” he said.

His daughter is trilingual and teaches French, English, and Spanish, as well as yoga. He said she was hoping to become certified for life and spiritual coaching through TwinRay so she could become an online coach.

“She wanted to specialize more and more in spiritual coaching and that’s why she invested a fair chunk of money in TwinRay,” he said.

“She probably, not counting her retreats, I think she sent them between $30,000 and $40,000,” he said.

Dubé said his daughter has lived away from the family for the last 15 years, and that not seeing her because of distance is one thing, but not seeing her because he worried she might be at risk as part of a cult is another thing altogether.

Crystals at The Haven were heavily discounted in the days leading up to the closure of downtown Ashland store, The Haven, which shuttered on Sunday. The store will be up for lease in August, according to building owners and their representatives. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

Dubé, whose career was in media before retirement, and his sister, a former television producer, set out to research more about TwinRay.

He began sending his daughter information dispelling the myth about the products they have been selling in their storefront.

“People are looking for meaningful relationships, whether it’s a spousal relationship of some kind, or a stronger social relationship, which these cults profess to be able to provide,” Dubé said.

“It’s kind of easy to get sucked in because, ‘Wow, these people look so serious. They’re serene, they’re beautiful and they’ve got … professional photographers, and they look really convincing, but they don’t say anything (meaningful) … There’s no reality to their speeches, it’s all a pie-in-the-sky type of thing.”

His daughter has since shared plans with him to stop taking their online courses and plans to visit him this summer.

Cult expert sheds light on dangers of cults, coercion

Janja Lalich, founder of the Lalich Center in the Bay Area and an international authority on cults and coercion, works with individuals who entered cults as adults, as well as those who were born and raised in cults. 

Lalich spoke with Ashland.news in 2023. She emphasized that many groups that ultimately are cults present themselves as having a good mission, which can be attractive to those seeking out meaning and purpose in their lives.

“I’ve been doing this 35 years, and most people, the reason they joined something is out of idealism,” Lalich said. 

Lalich was one of them. At the age of 30, a college graduate who’d lived overseas, 

Lalich became part of a cult she lived with for more than 10 years.

“It’s not because there’s something wrong with them, it’s not weakness, it’s not stupidity … it’s smart people, educated people, and cults know who to target,” Lalich said. “They want people who are going to run their businesses, who are going to recruit, who are going to bring big names, lend legitimacy to the group, money …. People have this idea … ‘Oh, that would never happen to me.’” 

Due to isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic was a particularly good time for cults who were interested in recruiting new members, she said.

There was such a big need that Lalich came out of retirement in 2020. She started receiving inquiries of all kinds for help from individuals who knew someone in a cult or had joined one themselves.

“During the pandemic, we were sheltered in, that’s why cults recruited so successfully,” Lalich said, “and why now we’re seeing internet cults for the first time because people were home, isolated, not seeing their friends and family.”

Seeking spirituality, Sarai came to TwinRay

Sarai told Ashland.news that, while she started taking TwinRay classes online in 2017, she has been on a path searching for spiritual fulfillment since 2008, a year when she experienced what she describes as a shift in consciousness, and essentially a spiritual “awakening.”  

“That’s when I started learning about spirit guides and energy healing techniques and the different wisdom traditions, like the Buddhism and Hinduism and the Celtic traditions,” Sarai said. “Here come Sananda and Shekinah — They basically took everything I had been learning about and they put it all together in a nice, neat little package and it made sense because it hooked into what I had already learned about.”

“He (Sanandaji) very much alludes to being the return of Jesus, but doesn’t say it directly, (he) has said it privately,” Sarai added.

“These people – I trusted them more than anyone and they broke my trust,” she said.

Sarai also said she was told to only drink juices for two weeks prior to their retreats. While there, she said, participants were not allowed to get a full night’s sleep, as ceremonies were held only at night.

Once indoctrinated with their philosophies, it can be difficult to leave, too, according to Sarai.

“You become part of their community and it becomes like your whole life,” Sarai told Ashland.news over the course of multiple interviews. She says the couple used “mental manipulation” on her and other followers.

“Their weapon is silence, they know how to silence people,” she added. “What I realize is, they don’t have power over people that haven’t given it to them.”

Sarai claims she was given DMT – N, N-Dimethyltryptamine – an illegal, hallucinogenic drug, at retreats and describes it as being “a psychedelic experience.” She also said she hallucinated after ingesting the substance.

She said Sanandaji and Shekinah sold products to her and others while they were in “altered states” during their retreats. 

A window display at The Haven shows meditative, angelic beings seemingly perched in the clouds. Ashland.news photo by Bert Etling

“You’re sleep deprived, you’re food-deprived, right from the beginning of the retreat. And then, you’re given drugs … you’re just told it’s a ‘sacred elixir,’” Sarai said. “This is like drug-induced, altered states, where they are extorting millions of dollars.”

She also said she noticed that, after every retreat where what she believes was DMT was served, the next retreat attracted more attendees.

“The first elixir (retreat) was eight people,” Sarai said. “Once we got to their place when they bought this mansion here (in Ashland), there was almost 60 people.”

She noted the two of them were the only ones facilitating the ceremonies.

“They’re not forthcoming with what they’re actually administering to people,” Sarai said. “They’re not forthcoming with their actual background. They refer to themselves as world teachers and liberated ascended masters and that seems to give them a pass from actually having to really talk about their actual background.

“How are they qualified to be administering an entheogenic (psychedelic) drug, and especially when you’re talking about (to) 60 people and they’re the only ones who are facilitators?” she emphasized.

Catamas defends the TwinRay couple, including against allegations that Sanandaji and Shekinah Ma served DMT at their retreats.

In a screenshot of a statement by Catamas obtained by Ashland.news, on behalf of TwinRay, he states that DMT was not served at retreats. He said all retreat attendees went through multiple layers of consent, including a comprehensive questionnaire, consent waiver, a pre-ceremony group forum, as well as a post-ceremony consultation and sharing circle.

“No DMT molecules or compounds were ever present in the elixirs during any retreats,” Catamas said on behalf of TwinRay.

Catamas also denies that the TwinRay couple held a retreat in Ashland in the last two and a half years. Sarai claims they did, and emphasizes that her experience was that elixir ceremonies were central to the retreats, and she believes the elixirs contained DMT.

Sarai told Ashland.news that she connected via social media with a maker of the exact elixir given to her at said retreats. The woman, whose name was not available, provided a formula for the so-called elixir to Sanandaji, and told Sarai that it was filled with DMT, Sarai confirmed to both journalist Be Scofield and Ashland.news. The woman lived in Ibiza, Spain at the time.

Sarai said Sanandaji and Shekinah are well-versed in speaking to followers who are experienced with religious traditions.

“I was taught a lot of reverence towards the religious authorities, respect and reverence of your elders,” she said. “We would kiss the priest’s hand, so I had that same respect for the TwinRays. I really thought they were these high authorities, just like I was taught as a child.”

It was the eloquence of Sanandaji’s message that was most striking for Sarai. She believes they have marketed their products and services well.

The Haven has attracted interest since opening in August 2022. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

“These people are not exactly the way they are presenting themselves, so I have to tell this story, because if not, people keep getting drawn in,” Sarai said. “They’re giving them all of their financial resources, their money — I’m still recovering from everything that I had given them — money, time, energy … my heart and my soul, I mean, they took a lot.”

Losing out on money to TwinRay was “minor” in comparison to other intangible things Sarai feels she lost.

“I thought that was my community, they took it,” Sarai added. “I thought I had learned a healing modality … to be able to use it to help people and to have a purpose and a living so it was a big take.”

Sarai’s healing journey continues with more time and space between her and TwinRay.

“I am concerned for the people who have given up everything to move to Ashland and devote their lives to the Golden Age that (TwinRay) promised,” Sarai said in an email to Ashland.news in mid-June. “(TwinRay) seems to have disappeared and never even responded to the (Be Scofield) article on any of their social media. Their followers deserved a lot more than that. 

“Speaking out and sharing my story,” Sarai added, “has been a critical part of my healing journey.” 

Do you have experience with TwinRay and have a story to tell? Reach out to Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news if you would like to share.

Freelance reporter Stephen Floyd contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs help following the use of DMT, there is help at SAMHSA’s National Helpline — call 800-662-HELP (4357) or go to online treatment locator.

July 5: Duplicated quote removed.

July 6: Minor edits made for clarification.

July 7: Changed characterization of source for information about elixir formula; she was a maker, not a distributor.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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