Saturday, June 17, 2006

Words of Power #24: Lost Symbols, Part One – Aung San Suu Kyi, AQ Khan, & The World Tree

NOTE: Words of Power explores the interdependence of security, sustainability and spirit. It monitors global risks and threats including global warming, terrorism, national disasters and health emergencies, cybercrime, economic espionage, etc. It also analyses issues and trends in the struggle for geopolitical hegemony, the pursuit of energy security and environmental security, the cultivation of human rights, and the strengthening of democratic institutions. Words of Power champions security, sustainability and spirit, both at work and in the home. The site has four components: Words of Power, which delivers in-depth commentary, and GS(3) Intelligence Briefing, which provides global risk-related news, are posted on an alternating, bi-weekly basis. Hard Rain Journal is posted daily, and provides updates and insights on developing stories. GS(3) Thunderbolts are posted as appropriate to deliver timely news on developing stories that require urgent attention. For more information on Rochard Power, Words of Power and GS(3) Intelligence, go

Words of Power #24: Lost Symbols, Part One – Aung San Suu Kyi, AQ Khan, & The World Tree

By Richard Power

In an age when immense technological advances have created lethal weapons which could be, and are, used by the powerful and the unprincipled to dominate the weak and the helpless, there is a compelling need for a closer relationship between politics and ethics at both the national and international levels. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations proclaims that 'every individual and every organ of society' should strive to promote the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings regardless of race, nationality or religion are entitled….Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage, which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.
Aung San Suu Kyi, upon the occasion of receiving the European Parliament’s 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which she could not accept in person, 7-10-91

The great North American Indian visionary Black Elk, an Ogala Sioux, was give a bright red stick in a vision. The stick was alive, and as he looked at it, it ‘sprouted at the top and sent forth branches, and on the branches many leaves came out, and murmured and in the leaves the bird began to sing. And then for just a little while [he] thought [he] saw beneath it in the shade the circled villages of people and every living thing with roots or legs or wings, and all were happy.’ Later Black Elk mourned, ‘There is no center any longer and the sacred tree is dead.’ Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices

I have written to you about “The White Tree,” “The Fallen Tree,” “The Giant Sequoias,” and, today, in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 61st birthday, I write to you about “The World Tree.”

In Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi , human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and daughter of Burmese independence fighter Aung San, has been under house arrest for ten out of the last seventeen years; and, despite a personal appeal from UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, Burma’s ruling junta recently extended her detention for at least another year.

In Islamabad, Dr. AQ Khan , the Pakistani physicist who sold his country’s nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran, Libya and Iran, and perhaps to other nations or entities, has been under house arrest, since February 2004.

Khan is guilty of facilitating potential crimes against humanity. Suu Kyi is simply guilty of humanity. That Suu Kyi should be under house arrest is an insult to the human spirit, but that Khan should only be under house arrest, instead of in prison, or on the gallows, is an insult to life itself.

But life and human spirit are stronger and more resilient than either the Burmese government, which futilely struggles to conceal the beauty of Suu Kyi, or the Pakistani government, which only feigns to punish AQ (Al Qaeda?) Khan.

When I close my eyes in meditation, I feel that strength and resilience as if it is from the roots of the World Tree, i.e., from the Oneness of all. I have felt it at dawn in the redwood forests of Northern California, I have felt it at twilight on the streets of Oslo and Copenhagen, I have felt it late at night thousands of feet above the Gobi Desert. And just as I have felt its power all over the world, the legend of the World Tree has appeared all over the world, from Central Asia to the Nordic region, to the American Great Plains.

It is a lost symbol that embodies the strength and resilience of life and the human spirit. All the trees of both nature and legend reflect it.

I call it a “symbol,” but, of course, such symbols are more than mental images, they are the flesh of mystical truth. I say it is “lost” only because it is not honored by the dominant cultures and religions.

The symbol of the World Tree should be reclaimed. It can help us overcome the challenges of the Dissonant Convergence, i.e., the 21st Century crisis of security, sustainability and spirit.

In Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade documents tales of the World Tree from Siberia and Central Asia. According to the Yakut, the World Tree stood in a “primordial paradise” at the “golden navel of the Earth.” There, “the first man was born,” and “feeds on the milk of a woman who half emerges from the trunk of the tree.” (Eliade 272) According to the Osmanli Turks, the Tree of Life has “a million leaves” and that “a human fate” is written on each one. When someone dies, a leaf falls. (Eliade 273)

In Shamanic Voices, Joan Halifax, medical anthropologist and Buddhist practitioner, writes: “The pulse of the drum frequently carries the shaman from the underworld, through the roots of the World Tree, up to the body of the tree that transects the middle world or earthly plane, and finally to the glorious summit of the Sacred Tree whose crown embraces the shining heavens. This Sacred Tree, path to rebirth, symbol of the place of confluence of the human collective, draws the society together by directing its energy toward the powerful center….As the shaman is one who is in dynamic relationship to this ‘axis of the world,’ the shaman is also the one who balances and centers the society, creating the harmony from which life springs.” (Halifax 15)

In the Nordic legends, the World Tree is known as Yggdrasill. It is a great ash tree with three roots. A sacred fountain is hidden under each of the roots. One root reaches into Asgaard, the realms of the Gods. The Norns, three beautiful sisters who control the fates of all, including the Gods, tend to Urd, the fountain of justice, hidden under this root. Another root reaches into Hel and Niflheim, the Underworld. Hvergelmir, the wellspring of the cold, lies hidden under this root. The third root reaches into Jotunheim, the wilderness of the Frost Ogres. Odin, the Sky-Father, gave his one of his eyes to drink from Mímir, the fountain of wisdom and understanding, hidden under the third root.

Just as the World Tree delivers strength and resilience for those who stand in defiance against brutality and ignorance, so it also embodies the divine power that protects us from the unthinkable. It is a miracle that Aung Sung Suu Kyi is alive, and it is a miracle that no nuclear weapon has been used against a human target since 1945. But there is a time for miracles, and then there is a time for personal responsibility. Before these miracles expire, we must re-commit our nations to establish the baseline of human rights for all people , and end the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (And, of course, just as with global warming, overpopulation, and other mega-threats, nuclear proliferation has been largely ignored, except as a false premise for war, for six years, and we have lost precious time we could not afford to lose.) We must draw on the strength and resilience of the World Tree, i.e., tap into the Force which is behind the oneness of all life. We must free the world’s Aung San Suu Kyis from repression, and do more than simply place the world’s AQ Khans under house arrest.

Happy birthday, Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope this message finds its way to you.

NEXT: Lost Symbols, Part II – The Rainbow Serpent

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: For more information, go to

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