Instead of increasing abilities by HeroQuesting to the point at which you qualify for a secret one alternative might be to make 'learning the secret' the objective of a heroquest itself. The numbers given might represent the level of those abilities suggested to tackle the quest, useful for narrator characters, but heroes can try the quest whenever they feel like it. That would allow lesser heroes to attempt the secret at lower ability ratings if they had sufficent community support and luck. Of course you will only be able to do the HeroQuest once, so doing it to early and failing will prevent you from ever knowing the secret. So you probably want to be sure (hence the higher numbers at which most people try for it).
For most secrets where the ability seems to have been taken from another this would seem to be a HeroQuest challenge (for example Hedkoranth worshippers might wager their Sling or Throw ability against Opanbobos the Great Thrower). However in some cases though the myth describes a challenge where the power was gained, the power does not seem to be the one directly used in opposition. For example I doubt Opanbobos the Great Thrower has Return ThunderStone, but if you defeat his Great Throw ability I bet you get Return ThunderStone.
Some other secrets seem less likely to be a HQ challenge, for example learning Durev's Head of Household secret (or did Durev challenge someone to become the Head of the Household) in which case you would do the quest, overcome the final station, and gain the secret at 12 + the station bonus.
I'd hope that cult virtues were tested, if not in the challenge, at some other point in the quest, in a test of worthiness.
This also gets over the problem of the secret starting at 13. The secret will likely be obtained at a higher level as a result of the quest.
So in summary, this options says that the HQ secret numbers become the point at which narrator characters (and grups who want to abstract it) can learn the secret, but heroes can try for it as a heroquest at any suitable point.
This seems to fit with what HQ was aiming at here.
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