Archives For Religious Freedom

Dana Eilers 1956-2017

Heather Greene —  February 28, 2017 — Leave a comment

Dana Eilers, 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Dana Eilers, 2016 [Courtesy Photo].

CAPE COD, Mass. — Dana Eilers, lawyer, Witch, and longtime civil rights advocate, died unexpectedly in her home Feb. 18. Eilers was known to many throughout the Pagan community by her outspoken political stances, her activity over social media, and the legal assistance and advice that she provided in support of religious freedom.

Eilers was born Sept. 15,1956 to Dan and Floy Eilers in Edwardsville, Ill. After graduating from Edwardsville High School, she went on to attend Smith College in Northampton, Mass., earning a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1978. Dana continued on to study law at the New England School of Law in Boston. While attending, she was published in the school’s New England Law Review and acted as one of its editors. Dana eventually graduated cum laude, earning her Juris Doctor in 1981.

After passing the bar, she moved to St. Louis, Mo. and began her long career as a civil litigator. It was at this time, in 1982, that she met and eventually married her former husband Wyatt Weed, who remembers Eilers as both a young lawyer and an aspiring artist.

In an emotional memorial post on Facebook, Weed recalls, “She wrote, she made costumes, she acted, and she restored a good chunk of [the] Victor Street house herself. She had originally wanted to pursue a degree in the arts, but her parents weren’t going to support an arts degree. She would do something dependable first, then do her ‘artsy’ thing later.”

Dana Eilers, 1970s [Courtesy Photo]

Dana Eilers, 1970s [courtesy photo].

That is what she did. From 1982 to 1998, she pursued her career, as a licensed attorney in the states of Illinois, Massachusetts, and Missouri. She also indulged her creative muse as a costumer and writer.

At the same time, in the early 1980s, Eilers found her Pagan spiritual path, one she described as being influenced by “Egyptian, Mayan, and Western European” factors. She was eventually ordained as a Wiccan priestess, and later a minister through the Universal Life Church.

With her vivacious spirit, it didn’t take long for Eilers to become involved in the St. Louis Pagan scene. Over the next two decades, she helped to grow and support that community. Dana was co-founder of the Occasional Coven and a founding member of both the Omnistic Fellowship, a non profit Pagan church, and the Council for Alternative Spiritual Traditions (CAST), a Pagan leadership council that hosts events such as the popular St. Louis Pagan Picnic. Additionally, she helped to create WildHaven, a autumn festival, and served as its chair in the late 1990s.

During that same period, Eilers launched something called Conversations with Pagans, a forum that ran once a month for six years in St. Louis and then moved with her to Massachusetts by 2000. She explained it as a way for Pagans, Pagan-friendly, and the curious to come together in a healthy and structured town hall meeting environment. Conversations with Pagans was also held at various Pagan conferences and large events over its existence.

Dana Eilers, 1994 [From St. Louis Costumers Guild]

Dana Eilers, 1994 [from St. Louis Costumers Guild].

Outside of her Pagan teaching and ministerial duties, Eilers also began using her legal know-how to assist in various quests for religious freedom and equality. She was a member of AREN (Alternative Religion Educational Network), AMER (Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions)Lady Liberty League, and Circle Sanctuary. Eilers served as legal consult to CUUPS, the WyrdWeavers Collective, and the Pagan Educational Network. She participated in the Boilerplate project to create basic letters for use in communication with legislators, and was on the 2000 Papal Apology Committee. Additionally, Eilers wrote the CUUPS pamphlet Pagan Leaders Denounce Intolerance and Uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.

As the century turned and a new millennium was on the horizon, her litigation career was at its end due to illness. However, she continued her active and very public work in educating Pagans and non-Pagans about Goddess worship, religious freedom, Witchcraft, and Paganism. Over the years, she was interviewed by mainstream news and radio in both St. Louis and eventually in Massachusetts. She was never a Witch in the closet.

Eilers also shared her legal knowledge and experience through the written word. Her articles were published regularly in various prominent traditional and online Pagan publications such as Circle Magazine, Sage Woman, WitchVox, PanGaia and Green Egg, but she is best known for her two books: The Practical Pagan (2002) and Pagans and the Law: Understanding Your Rights (2003). The latter of the two works has been cited in a number of other Pagan books and essays, and is on many “must-read” lists. Some consider it the best source of legal information for Pagans fighting religious discrimination.

In a recent interview with Ellen Evert Hopman for an upcoming book, Dana explained her reason for writing the two books. “I was in bookstores all the time and I realized that no one had written a book about the legal rights Pagans could drop into the laps of lawyers, bosses, school principals, etc. as a way of saying: ‘You cannot discriminate against us.'”

By the middle of that decade, Eilers had moved to Massachusetts in order to be closer to her parents, who were then living on Cape Cod. Outside of her continuing legal work within the Pagan community, Eilers spent her time with family, friends, and her beloved collies; a passion that she shared with her with mother. Dana also continued to indulge herself in creative projects, including writing, poetry, and other whimsical passions.

In recent years, her active legal work did slow down to some degree, but she continued to assist when possible and speaking out when needed. She maintained an active social media presence, and even started a popular Facebook page, The Progressive Liberal Witch, in 2012.

In addition, over the past few years, Eilers has regularly provided assistance to Wild Hunt writers for articles involving complicated court document analysis. Her most recent work was for a Jan. 2017 article that involved reviewing two health care cases, a subject that she was particularly familiar with due to her early professional work in that field.

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Dana Eilers, book signing [courtesy photo].

In his own tribute, Wyatt Weed wrote, “I think Dana’s idea of what her life was going to be was different from what it became. I think she loved the law, but the actual practice of the law could at times be unpleasant and took an emotional and physical toll.”

When news of her death was made public, friends and colleagues were shocked. Many people reported having plans with Eilers for the upcoming days. She died unexpectedly of a heart attack in her sleep at home surrounded by her beloved dogs. Since then, there has been an outpouring of support and the sharing of stories, which serves to demonstrate just how many people she had touched throughout her life.

Here are a few quotes:

“The community of people who have worked tirelessly for Pagan rights were blessed to have her among their ranks. Lady Liberty League worked with Dana on several religious rights cases over the years ranging from rights for students in educational settings, custody issues, advisement on employment issues, and also on the quest for our military veterans to have their sacred religious symbols on their government issued headstones. She will be missed by many people around the world. Her work touched, trained and educated us all,” wrote Rev. Selena Fox for Circle Sanctuary.

“Dana was a fierce friend of the order and a lady with whom many of us knew personally and admired. [..] Those who knew and loved her are shocked by this loss, and we remain very sad. She will be very much missed.” – Frater Pneuma for the Order of the Star of Bethlehem.

“Dana was a unique woman, brave, bold and brilliant. She honored those who knew her and graced us with humor and wit. Thank you for being in our lives.” – Vanessa, in a guest post on the family’s memorial site.

“Rest in peace, Dana. From whatever mountain top you blow your horn and cast out your wisdom, I hope you find happiness and contentment.” – Wyatt Weed.

In many of the online posts and tributes, Eilers is described as a “force of nature.” She was undoubtedly a strong woman, but as Weed said, “not invincible.” She led the full life a woman in charge, one who knew her business. Not only did she indulge her sharp intellect, but she also enjoyed creative whimsy, which flourished most noticeably in her love of costumes, hats, and writing. Dana was helpful, supportive, and ever-motivated to make a difference in her community, working tirelessly to lift up others through use of her own knowledge and skills.

In the end, Eilers was someone who never stopped being herself. As a result, she deeply touched many people over the years, beginning decades ago when she was just starting out and then never quitting even to the very end.

What is remembered, lives.

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For those wanting to send condolences, messages can be left on the online guest book set up by Nickerson Funeral Home. The family is asking that any donations be made to the Humane Society or any Cape Cod land bank. The Order of the Star of Bethlehem held a memorial service on Feb. 24. Circle Sanctuary honored Dana at PantheaCon. We will publish updates with any other services or memorials as the information is made available.