One thing I've been finding in my own learning is that often all you can really learn from others is paths along which to send your mind. What you do with them is up to you, and never anything more than your own expression of what you learned.
I've not been subjected as much to some of the deception in the community, mostly because one of the first people I met who was pagan insisted that "Sturgeon's Rule Applies - even to me, and to you" which in his translation was "Take everything with a whole *shaker* of salt." And you know, that's probably one of the only things I consciously took away from my period with that group.
But I was influenced by the group, subtly. If I look closely enough, I can see the influences in my practice.
I'm positive that my experience is colored by the fact that I never could find someone to teach me directly. I've been part of three circles so far, and of those, two were really working units - one dealing primarily with the spirits at the theater we were part of, the other was a tight unit of three of us who moved away from that group and lived together. The other group, of which I was only part for a couple months, was not really a coven, but a group of individuals, all on different paths, sharing what we learned with each other. So I'll bet that if I had had some strong influence I'd feel differently. Sometimes I feel its lack very keenly. Other times I'm more philosophical about it. I really wasn't ready anyway.
At this stage in the game, I find that what I'm taking away from others is less process and more patterns of thought. Oh, I'm most definitely learning. I'm part of several good online groups with very good discussions. But what I'm learning isn't "this is how you're supposed to do X," it's more "Think about X."
I don't believe you should take the practices of others without doing them the courtesy of an in-depth study of their beliefs, culture, language, and all other accoutrements that go with their lives. It's not appropriate. Other people's practices are influenced by their own lives, and I am influenced by my own. My own influences, or even lack thereof, prevent me from seeing clearly what another's practices and beliefs are. Unless, of course, I choose to take the time to really immerse myself and study. Then, and only then, would I have the chance to truly "get it" to the point where I could take something with me. But even then, what I learned would still be filtered through my own perceptions.
Ultimately, it seems to me, it all comes down to experience. We can't really move outside our heads, figuratively speaking. No matter how we perceive, be it in real space or other space, we're still the observer. Thus nothing can really be cleanly passed from one to another. How then can one take anything absolutely literally, especially when learning about things that are by definition not consensus? How can one truly teach another truths?
He can't. All he can do is lead you to mystery. What you do with it is up to you. And, what you do with it, is probably also the product of what you've done with other things you've been led to. Free will, and inescapable influences. Guess we have another mystery.
Oh and by the way - take this with a shaker of salt.
Jaelle ShadowDancer 8/27/03