Delta Paganism advises seekers to take only what is freely given, so it must supply some way to make that judgment. The motivation for this principle is avoiding cultural appropriation, specifically colonizer cultures adopting elements of colonized cultures to augment their spiritual practice. Cultural exchange benefits individuals and communities by creating ways for people to learn about one another and interact in a shared space. Cultural appropriation lacks equality between participants, removing the mutual respect required for shared understanding. The Delta Pagan’s journey should not be an expedition to plunder the wonders of the world’s traditions. Instead, the journey should be characterized by authentic study and respectful exchange.

Some religious traditions frame experience of the divine within a very specific location and environment. The tradition changes over time, both organically and through cultural exchange, but connection with the rhythms of a specific place remain a prominent feature. Rituals and regular observances may be impossible to conduct outside of the tradition’s home region. Where the religious experience attaches to holy sites or local seasonal cycles, adherents may have difficulty traveling with their faith. A person who moves to a region where such a tradition thrives may take a long time to become folded into the religion, if they ever do. Usually, an adherent is born into a regional tradition and passes through rites of passage to mark life transitions.

Some religious traditions value spreading their doctrines to others and bringing new adherents into the fold. When they thrive, these traditions tend to take root well beyond their original location, carried by missionaries. Initiation rituals welcome new members into the community whether they are born or converted to it. Converts tend to incorporate core doctrines into local practices, introducing new ideas into the tradition. A missionary tradition then becomes a nexus of core doctrines, internal developments, and syncretism.

Mystery traditions keep their doctrines and rituals secret, only selectively admitting candidates. An aspiring member often must study or undergo a ritualized ordeal before being formally initiated into the religion. Rituals of initiation form a common thread with regional, missionary, and mystery religions. Regional religions may have rites of passage to mark stages of life but no formal ritual to initiate new members. Missionary religions typically have a formal initiation ritual, and they may develop or incorporate rites of passage from regional religions. The former assumes that new members enter only through birth, but the latter allows that new members may join as adults. Initiation rites form a centerpiece of a mystery tradition as it serves as a boundary between those allowed to know and those who are kept ignorant.

A spiritual journey might wind through traditions that belong to all of these categories, and the seeker cannot help but be influenced by what they encounter. At the same time, every seeker exists in relation to their history, in particular their ancestral relationship to imperialism and colonization. Members of privileged classes and colonizer cultures should consider the historical relationship between themselves and the traditions they study. White people who study Buddhism should be aware of the “Orientalization” that characterized the original popularization of Buddhism in Europe and North America. While Missionary traditions invite exchange, regional traditions with a history of suppression by colonizers might find syncretism disrespectful. Without developing strong personal ties by growing up in the area or spending a significant phase of life there, one may not think of regional traditions as being freely given.

Colonizer cultures cannot demand the same respect for their traditions because they have made an active effort to export their culture and force colonized people to conform to it. An individual dislocated from their culture’s original home and isolated from their traditions will adopt what they are given and make it their own. When colonizer cultures erase the traditions of colonized people, those descendants will necessarily inherit the colonizer’s traditions. Even though a living individual may not have participated in any historical atrocities, they benefit from that history and enjoy a position built on that violence. While no one person can correct past injustices, one can and should avoid reproducing colonization dynamics when studying or interacting with cultural tradition that are not one’s own. Nothing that a colonizer has taken is freely given.