It is often said that Loki is a bringer of harsh truths, as shown in the Lokasenna and the personal experiences of his devotees. Hence, his title of bölva smiðr, bale-smith. One who crafts those things that hurt to hear.
I don’t doubt this. I’ve experienced it directly.
It is also said by many of these same people that it falls to us, as Lokeans, to also bring harsh truths.
This gives me pause, for several reasons.
For one, Loki, as a god, is ancient. He has been given thousands of years (at minimum) to observe the follies and vanities of his peers and of humans. He knows how we tick. Our human lifetimes are fairly long, at 80+ years in a sufficiently cushy environment. But they’re still astronomically shorter than a god’s lifespan. We have far shorter windows of opportunity for studying each other, and we have to develop ourselves simultaneously. It’s a lot to juggle at once.
By extension, while our gods are fallible, they are more experienced and more mature than we, as humans, will probably ever get to be. They can spot our dishonesty and our arrogance faster than we detect it in others, and especially in ourselves. This is what harsh truths, by necessity, destroy.
Picture someone you know who pointedly announces that they are honest. When they insult you or talk down to you, their excuse for this behavior is that they’re just so honest. They call them as they see them. Fine, I guess. But what does that achieve? Did you actually learn something useful about yourself? Does this person examine their own worldview like that?
Doubtful. These kinds of people are usually just annoying and making excuses. Also, stop befriending whale biologists.
Unlike your average “but I’m just being honest!” type, Loki is tactical. This is literally the minimum requirement for a trickster-adjacent god. (“Trickster” is a bit of an oversimplification, but that’s for another day.) You don’t get a reputation for being cunning and sly if you don’t exercise good judgement. Good judgement does not have room for arrogance, vanity and just plain being a dick.
Loki is also accountable, whether he likes it or not. When he suggests letting the giant builder use his horse, it’s him who has to go sabotage the wall to save The Sun, The Moon and Freyja when this proves to be a bad idea. When he tries to get out of surrendering his head to the dwarves who crafted Mjölnir, his mouth is stitched shut; by refusing to pay the promised fee, he opens himself up for punishment. The Lokasenna ends in his punishment, too, even as he spends several stanzas calling his peers out on their faults. (I also think it’s easy to forget, in this day and age, that Lokasenna is a comedy piece.) He tries to wiggle out of both of these, literally in the second case, but to no avail.
In short, our actions have consequences.
I don’t think we do justice by this supposed obligation to the harsh truth when we are not tactical and accountable. We are not tactical if we call them as we see them, every time we see them. There are time, place and manner considerations. Power dynamics do not magically melt away, and if we take this task seriously, we must also be ready to face the consequences of uttering these harsh truths. Reactions are not always justified, but they’re harsh truths. They will rarely, if ever, be received well.
And maybe harsh doesn’t suit the situation. Maybe it’s not even our job, because not all of us are qualified. Maybe it’s a skill that has to be developed.
We must also be similarly willing to turn this on ourselves, because if we don’t examine and work on ourselves, work on our natural impulse to stir the pot before figuring out if it really serves the greater good, we can’t trust that the message is given in good faith. We have to be ready to ask ourselves why this needs to be shared, what good it does, and if we’re ready for the consequences. How can you know you’re telling the truth to others if you’re still lying to yourself?
I don’t want to imply that I am somehow immune to this, either. The entire point is that nobody is. We will probably never ditch the instinct for arrogance, but we can at least be aware it’s there, so we’re prepared to resist it.
On the Responsibility of Being Lokean, by Del Tashlin.