The Mysterious Origins of the Enneagram

Where did the Enneagram come from?

It’s a very simple question with a very complex answer. Why? Because there are many facets to the enigmatic Enneagram. It’s a symbol, a typography of human personality, and a map of human consciousness. The knowledge unfolded in layers, so to understand its origins, you need to look at all of its facets.


The Symbol

The nine-pointed symbol of the Enneagram can be deconstructed as a circle, a triangle and an irregular hexagon. Each shape has an esoteric spiritual meaning. The shapes map to laws that are referred to as laws of the universe or laws of cosmology.
  • The outer circle of the Enneagram symbolizes oneness, unity, and wholeness. It represents the Law of One which maps to completeness and the everlasting quality of love.
  • The inner triangle of the Enneagram represents the Law of Threes. This universal law states that three forces guide everything: active, passive, and neutral.
  • The irregular six-point hexagon represents the Law of Seven. This universal law reveals the way things happen in terms of process or a sequence of steps. It is illustrated in the spectrum of light (the seven colors of the rainbow), the spectrum of sound (seven fundamental tones in an octave), sequence (seven days in a week), and energy (seven chakras or energy points in the body).
Variations of the Enneagram symbol have been found in the sacred geometry of the followers of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, dating back 4,000 years. There are also references within the Sufi tradition of Central Asia dating back thousands of years. We see several references but no clear point of origin. The symbol itself, however, is only one part of the Enneagram system of personality. Let’s explore the other components.


The Three Centers of Intelligence: Body, Heart, and Head

Born in Russian Armenia, G.I Gurdjieff (Jan 13, 1886-Oct 29, 1949), was a mystic, philosopher and spiritual teacher who spoke of the symbol of the Enneagram and presented a practical teaching path to greater consciousness called The Fourth Way.
The Fourth Way is an approach to self-development that combines and harmonizes what Gurdjieff saw as three established traditional “ways” or “schools”: those of the mind (head), emotions (heart) and body. While these three ways required a contemplative lifestyle, The Fourth Way was intended to encompass “householders” or regular people living in mainstream society. His teachings related to the Enneagram focused on the three centers of intelligence, one of the many facets of the Enneagram. When tracing the origins of the Enneagram, the knowledge around the three centers is attributed to Gurdjieff.


The Nine Primary Personality Descriptions

The Enneagram, as most people use it today, is a system of personality outlining nine distinct habits of attention and related personality profiles. These are Type 1 (Perfectionist), Type 2 (Helper), Type 3 (Achiever), Type 4 (Individualist), Type 5 (Investigator), Type 6 (Loyalist), Type 7 (Enthusiast), Type 8 (Challenger), and Type 9 (Peacemaker). The codification of these nine distinct types is attributed to Oscar Ichazo (Jun 24, 1931 – March 26, 2020) a Bolivian-born philosopher who spent a great deal of time in Arica, Chile, eventually founding the Arica School there.
The origin of his knowledge is not clear, though he mentions Aristotle, Neoplatonism, and Gurdjieff as sources. It is believed that his knowledge came from his studies in the near and far East, particularly in Afghanistan. Among other things, his Arica School teaches the concepts of the Enneagram, and Ichazo is attributed to codifying the knowledge around the nine distinct personality profiles.


The Contemplative Schools and the Nine Habits of Attention

While Ichazo was the first to codify the nine personality types, there are many theories that contemplative schools, even as far back as the time of Christ and even Homer, already knew about the nine habits of attention. The habit of attention is the foundation of the nine types and the behavioral patterns radiate out from the habit of attention. The habit of attention is also what holds us back from reaching a state of higher consciousness.
Some Enneagram teachers reference the time after the death of Jesus Christ, when his followers were afraid to stay in the mainstream, fearing for their lives. They retreated to the deserts to continue their spiritual studies. But one by one, they returned to regular society and when pressed about why they returned, their answers aligned with each of the nine habits of attention (e.g. “There were things in society I wanted to correct so I came back . (Type 1), “I felt the need to support others so I came back.”  (Type 2), “I couldn’t  experience my own success outside the mainstream so I came back” (Type 3) and so forth). But while this knowledge may have been known in various mystery schools and spiritual settings, Ichazo appears to have been the first to write it down.


The 27 Subtype Descriptions

Claudio Naranjo (Nov 24, 1932 – July 12, 2019), born in Chile, learned the Enneagram model from Ichazo in 1970 when he went for an Arica School training. Shortly after, Naranjo created a group called SAT (Seekers of Truth) and shared his learnings there. Naranjo had worked with Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt theory and had a deep knowledge of psychoanalytic psychology, Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, Sufism, and Buddhist meditation among other things. Naranjo integrated Ichazo’s work with his own broad view of human development and offered even more refined descriptions of the personality types. The 27 detailed personality subtype profiles are attributed to Naranjo. While the three subtype categorizations (self-preservation, social and intimate) existed before Naranjo, he added a level of detail to the profiles that had previously been unavailable.



As you can see, there is no single answer to the question, where is the Enneagram from? It is a body of knowledge that was accessed by various philosophers and spiritual teachers at various times ranging from thousands of years ago to as recently as this generation.
But what is even more interesting is that science seems to support this body of knowledge. In the famous New York Longitudinal Study (NYLS) conducted in 1956 by two psychologists named Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, the researchers’ tried to discover if there were trends in children’s temperaments. The study was able to list nine traits that can make up one’s temperament and these traits then formed three groupings. While it would be simplistic to state the nine traits and the three groupings from the study directly map to the Enneagram typography, the trends are hard to ignore. It seems science points to what the ancient mystics already knew.
And as a final note, it is important to underscore that the Enneagram isn’t just a typology of human personality. That may be the popular, mainstream application, but the Enneagram is much more. It is a typology of human consciousness, a map for waking us up. And a world in which everyone was awake would be a world of deep compassion.

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