In my experience beginner books do go through a number of subjects, but (necessarily, one could say, given the format) only deal with each subject briefly. There's one bit of information on one subject, another bit of info on another subject, little bits on this and that. Nothing is dealt with deeply or explained thoroughly.
So, one of the steps for moving beyond 101 books is, and in my humble opinion should be, to take on reading books specializing in given subjects. That is, instead of reading about herbs from a 101 book, take to reading herbology books. Instead of reading about meditation techniques from a chapter in a 101 book, pick up books on meditation. Instead of reading just the few rows of info usually given about different deities, read books concentrating on a given mythology or deity, including non-Pagan (not written by Pagans, for Pagans) literature. You get the picture!
Don't be afraid to pick up books that may challenge your own views. Give your mind some brain-fodder and let it work. You may very well end up with exactly the same thoughts as you began with, but at least you've put them through a thinking process. Oh yes, and read critically, even views agreeing with you fully.
Widen your horizons. The books you read don't have to be about your religion, nor on religion at all. For example, critical source evaluation is a good skill to learn, especially because on religious matters you don't have stone-set truths or facts... Get to learn about other religions as well. They may not do anything for you, but at least you won't be ignorant about their teachings. :)
Then, besides reading, actually doing something is important. Develop your own ways of working magick, of doing rituals, of connecting to the deities and practicing your religion as part of your life.
I mention this, as lately I've been running into more and more new Pagans, usually Wiccans, who take time to specifically state that they don't do magick or formal rituals at all. A few have stated it right out, but with many others I have read it in between the lines - they are a little afraid of starting to do things on their own, afraid of not being able to do things right and getting bad results in their ritual.
It's called religious "practice", not "perfect", isn't it? :o) If ritual is what you are intending and eventually wanting to do, put down the books and start practicing. The know-how doesn't drop down one day from the skies, ready to be used and used perfectly. You will need practice.
Learning basic forms and basic spells is a good way to start, but one shouldn't be stuck with just copying. Even in formal ritual structures, there's room for one's own style. Experimenting with different styles and methods, developing your own style, gets your own practice further and gives it more personal (how should I say it...) power.
Don't be too afraid to, for example, switch directions and elements, if those given in books don't speak to you. You won't be the first one daring to do that. Others have done it before and done it well. The authors can't see where you are, or give usable examples for every location, situation and what have you possible. Again, use your mind.
Don't be too greedy or try to get "there" too quickly. (Is there a "there" in Pagan paths?) Let yourself and your mind rest. Don't do anything for a while, if you don't feel like it. That's not something to feel guilty about. There's no use in burning yourself out -- what good would that do to your deities?
Allow the knowledge you have gathered to mature in your head. It will mature, with your accumulating experience and knowledge. Things click into their places. Something you were absolutely, positively certain about at one point, may later be seen in whole new light and differently. Maybe a part of a larger whole you previously weren't even aware of. I know I have been made to take a step back from my previous ways of thinking many times over, giving them a good shake and rethinking. Learn to appreciate the experience, not be crushed by it.
Things tend to seem much easier in the beginning. More simple, more clear-cut. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it depends on your way of thinking, life doesn't tend to be that simple. Simple rules aren't bad as such, but in real life situations, they often need adapting. So, adapt. Use your mind; it's there for a reason. Don't let basic or simple rules become your crutch, or something that disables you from functioning in a complex world. Watch, learn and listen, to others and yourself.
Make your religion an important part of your life, but don't forget to have a life. You have probably met people of other faiths, people who have filled their life with their religion so much that you couldn't be around them. Don't become one of those people. It can happen and you will be as annoying to other people as those you had met were annoying to you :) The same goes with fundie type thinking. It can creep up on you, if you don't keep it in check. One True Wayism is often so much easier than all the other options!
Basically -- live and learn! The Pagan path isn't an easy one, and anyone who says it is, is incorrect.
copyright © 2001 by Faerie K.
Available also at The Cauldron.