Understanding the Enneagram
History and Debate
One of the main problems with understanding the Enneagram is that its exact origins are lost to history. No-one really knows precisely who discovered it or where it came from. Some believe that it surfaced in Sufusm in the 10th and 11th centuries; others that it originated much earlier, as long ago as 2500 B.C. in Babylon or elsewhere in the Middle East.
In Gurdjieff’s book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’ he describes the discovery of an ancient parchment, a letter from one monk to another who belonged to the Sarmoung Brotherhood. This Sarmoung Brotherhood, according to a book called ‘Merkhavat’ was a famous esoteric school which was founded in Babylon as far back as 2500 B.C. and survived in various other places until the 6th and 7th century A.D. The school was said to have possessed great knowledge, containing the key to many secret mysteries. In Peter Brook’s film of Meetings with Remarkable Men the discovery of this parchment had a picture of the Enneagram as an emblem at the top of the page.
We do know for a fact that in 1916 Gurdjieff taught the Enneagram to his pupils in the St. Petersburg and Moscow groups. Early commentaries on the Enneagram can be found in Ouspensky’s book In Search of the Miraculous, Fragments of an Unknown Teaching published in 1949. which relate to these times in Gurdjieff’s teaching history. Other examples of references can be found in Maurice Nicoll’s work from 1952-1954 and also in J.G. Bennett’s from 1956-1966 both proclaiming Gurdjieff to be their source.
In 1972 a Bolivian psychologist named Oscar Ichazo initiated the current trend of using the Enneagram for psycho-therapeutic purposes. He gives no credence to Gurdjieff as his source but claims to have worked out the ancient meanings for himself — and then later accuses others of plagiarism. We must put in context here that Rodney Collin, a devoted pupil of Ouspensky spent years in South America, Peru, and Mexico after Ouspensly had died, running his own 4th Way School. This would have been modelled on the Gurdjieff Method as taught by Ouspensky. As he had been with Ouspensky when he died we can safely assume that Rodney Collin was heavily involved with Ouspensky’s preparation of Fragments of an Unknown Teaching which contains information and diagrams of the Enneagram. Under the circumstances one could easily ask the question, whether Ichazo received teaching from a Rodney Collin School and was unwilling to disclose this.
Another claim comes from the Sufis.
Anthony C.Edwards wrote a book called ‘Competitiveness and Apartheid in the New Age – the Enneagram schools’. In this book Edwards maintains that Gurdjieff was a Sufi- inspired teacher. Gurdjieff himself declared that Muhammad was a messenger from God, and also acknowledges that practical esotericism can be found in Persia, Mesopotamia and Turkestan – places he visited to gather material for his Method. The Dervish dances are attributed to this aspect of Gurdjieff’s search. The Sufi’s insist that the Enneagram is from their source even though countless volumes of research into Islamic Geometry has not shown any evidence that the symbol exists in those texts.
The truth about Gurdjieff is that he was not a Sufi but an Orthodox Christian…….as a boy he sang in the Cathedral Choir in Kars, and his educators were Dean Borsh and Deacon Bogachevsky. Gurdjieff ‘s pilgrimages were to Echmiadzin, the religious heart of Armenia, Mount Athos, Jerusalem, and meeting with the Essenes and the Coptic Christians of Abyssinia.
Paul Dukes, Gurdjieff’s first British pupil from 1913, received teaching which was firmly grounded in Christianity. In his own words he says that the gospels became intensely personal, free of dogma, a living message with the Lord’s Prayer as its emblem and the parables its illustration.
In 1916 Gurdjieff gave the symbol of the Enneagram to his groups with the assurance that ‘it has been completely unknown up to the present time and cannot be met with anywhere in the study of occultism either in books or in the oral tradition.’
The Enneagram as Symbol
What is a Symbol?
Webster’s dictionary definition of a symbol is:
-It is a sign or an object used for purposes of recall or representation
– this could be a thing or an idea.
– a symbol can also act as a character or marker, standing for some process or idea.
– it communicates information, knowledge and meaning without the use of words.
Some examples of symbols are: a cross: a coptic cross: the star of David: crescent moon
A mandala can be considered to be a symbol. Many examples can be found in Buddhist sand paintings…….. an obvious one being the 1,000 petalled lotus.
A labyrinth can also be considered to be a symbol…….. a symbol of the journey to the centre, whereupon a change takes place, and the thread which brings you back – renewed. …… not like a maze which gives you a choice as to which direction you would like to move in.
In his book ‘The Enneagram’ by Dimitri Peretzi he says that the Enneagram has become a ‘New Age Mandala’. ‘Since 1950 when the Enneagram first appeared in print and became known outside the original, relatively small Gurdjieff circles it has had a public career that is nothing more than spectacular. In the Spring of 2003 there were 35,000 Enneagram-related web-sites mostly outside the context of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Most were concerned with ‘personality types’, ‘management methods’, and ‘business strategies’ —– fewer than 30 related to Gurdjieff’s original presentation. Most had reduced the enneagram to a set of simplified formulas – along the lines of pattern and process.’
The Structure of the Enneagram
James Moore defines the Enneagram as a rare symbol which encapsulates and transmits a new idea of awakening power.’
The structure consists of:
1. A circle
2. Nine equal parts clockwise from 1-9; 9 being uppermost around the circle
3. A triangle when the points 9, 3, 6, are joined together. This equilateral triangle contains the ‘Law of Three’
—–father, mother, child
—–food, air, impressions
—–form, matter, life,
—–minerals, plants, animals
—–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost
—–active, passive, neutralizing or in Gurdjieff’s terminology ‘Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling’
4. By joining the other points in the succession of 1,4,2,8,5,7, we get the unique shape of the Enneagram. This sequence is the outcome of dividing 1 by 7 producing some special significance. Dividing 2 by 7 gives us the sequence 285714; dividing 3 by 7 will be 857142 and so on……. According to Gurdjieff this sequence represents the ‘Law of Seven’, which is centred around ‘discontinuity’ ……. In the musical scale it correlates to ‘Do,Ra,Mi, Fa,Sol,La,Si
Gurdjieff laid down his teaching in Dance Form which we call Sacred Movements or Sacred Dances.
In many of these dances Gurdjieff placed the Enneagram as pattern and process – so it became a moving symbol serving the dancers in their ‘inner work’ .. a striving towards ‘inner-togetherness’ which we can call ‘Being’
To quote from A.G. Blake’s book ‘The Intelligent Enneagram’ …… he says that it was through such movements that Gurdjieff believed it would be possible for people to experience themselves in relation to the cosmos within the realm of sensation and feeling. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky and others that this was the only way that ideas could be assimilated in all three centres…..’thought, feeling, sensation.’
The notion that dance can accurately convey the substance of ideas is strange to contemporary people yet Memphis, a famous mime artist could dance faultlessly the whole of the Pythagorean doctrine.(whether people could understand it or not is another matter!)
To approach the Enneagram without a physical base is to miss the point of it entirely.
What did ‘moving’ inside the space of the Enneagram feel like to the participants? It was most certainly above wordy explanations and flat paged, theoretical diagrams!
The Power of Nine
Klausbernd Vollmar speaks of the power of nine in his book ‘Secrets of Enneagrams- mapping the personality’
9 is known as the symbol of perfection.
The French ‘neuf’ (9) means ‘new’
The German ‘neun’ (9) also means ‘new’
9 months is the time required for the growth of a foetus to birth as a human.
The Enneagram of Psychological Types
Recently, – since the 1970s, the Enneagram has become a model for representing 9 psychological personality types. Its invention, by Oscar Ichazo, has adopted an ‘outer form’ without entering into it’s inner dynamic. He founded a school based on studying personality types as defined by himself. This was known as the Arica School and the Enneagram became a psycho-diagnostic tool. Following the line of Oscar Ichazo, a particular branch of Jesuits have used the Enneagram emphasizing that it can make us more aware of our ‘shadow-sides’. The Jesuits in this camp believe that the 9 types represent 9 different aspects of defence mechanism which prevent us from developing ‘wholeness’.
According to Gurdjieff we do not develop our wholeness because we have many ‘I’s’ – not just 9, which cultivate our egos instead of our essence. Living through the ego gives us a false sense of reality as our lives become ‘outward facing.’ Gurdjieff also said, ‘A man’s ego changes as fast as his thoughts, feelings and moods and he is subject to a huge error if he believes he is constantly the same. In reality he becomes a different person from the one he was just a moment ago. The characteristic mark of a modern person is the absence of unity in himself.’
The obvious difficulty with typology is that it can develop bias and rigidity …. rather like describing oneself as a sun-sign … ‘I am Virgo’ or ‘I am Taurus’.
The 9 types give us a sense of image and identity which can often give us an excuse or reason for not changing ourselves. Some people think that the 9 psychological types are 9 different strategies for obtaining love.
It is worth remembering here, that the Enneagram teaching comes from the 4th Way and it was always the aim of this method to break down automatic habits and reactions in order to have more fluidity and flexibility in one’s psychological structures.
To the 9 Types:
Point 1= the Perfectionist; motivated by the need to live life the right way-to improve oneself and others and to avoid danger!
Point 2= the Helper; motivated by the need to be loved and appreciated – to express positive feelings towards others and to avoid being seen as needy
Point 3 = the Achiever; motivated by the need to be productive – to achieve success and to avoid failure.
Point 4 = the Romantic; motivated to understand another’s feelings and to be understood themselves – to search for the meaning in life and to avoid being ordinary.
Point 5 = the Observer; motivated by the need to know everything and understand the Universe – to be self-sufficient and to be left alone – to avoid being seen as not knowing or looking foolish.
Point 6 = the Questioner; motivated by the need to receive approval – to feel taken care of and to avoid being seen as rebellious.
Point 7 = the Adventurer; motivated by the need to be happy and plan fun things – needs to contribute to the world – to avoid suffering and pain.
Point 8 = the Asserter; motivated by the need to be self-reliant and strong – to make an impact on the world – to avoid being weak
Point 9 = the Peacemaker; motivated by the need to keep ‘peace’, merge with others and avoid conflict.
This extract is taken from ‘The Enneagram made easy’ and fits into the category of Enneagram for personal growth which offers titles such as: ‘If I’m so wonderful, why am I still single?’ and ‘Now that I’m married, why isn’t everything perfect?’
When entering the scope of personality types along the guidelines of the influence of the planets discrepancies abound. These serve to show us just how mutable describing things by using the Enneagram as a tool can be.
For example; Keyersling founder of the ‘Wheel’ which is an Institute for Personal growth, describes the types in this order:
1 = Jupiter, 2 = Venus, 3 = Uranus, 4 = Moon, 5 = Mercury, 6 = Neptune, 7 = Mars, 8 = Saturn, 9 = Pluto
Whilst Rodney Collin, pupil of Ouspensky and leader of a 4th Way School describes planetary types differently.
As a study I looked at ‘Human Types – Essence and the Enneagram’ by Susan Zannos. This version is modelled on the arrangement given out by Rodney Collin.
Point 1 = Lunar Type; classified as passive/negative. Body type is frail and often thin and lacks co-ordination
Point 4 = Venusian Type; large frame tending towards bulky/ attractive in appearance but chamelion like in character, an easy follower
Point 2 = Mercurial Type; small build with youthful appearance, often called ‘sun-shine’ people with dazzling smiles. Can be restless and manipulative.
Point 8 = Saturn Type; tall, long with strong bones and very noticeable. Movements are slow and deliberated. Seems aloof and distant but has capacity for leadership.
Point 5 = Martial Type; active and negative in outlook with powerful build ..These people are goal orientated and quick to respond. Their chief feature is towards destructiveness and fear.
Point 7 = Jovial Type; has a rounded body form with no waistline. Outlook is passive and positive with characteristics of good humour and good naturing skills. Tends towards vanity.
The centre of the Enneagram is occupied by the Solar type who is classed as ‘a loner with a feeling of not belonging …. is active and positive’. In build is quite child-like with delicate bone structure. Chief feature is naivety.
Pattern and Process
This model is used for ‘business strategies’ and ‘management methods’
A.G. Blake says, ‘The Enneagram describes a pattern and a process as something that changes in steps. Think of the pattern as the basic plot of a drama and the process as the action that unfolds within it. In the Enneagram the plot or idea is not a thing but a relationship – steps that move sequentially. The primary relationship as shown by the triangle, expresses Gurdjieff’s Law of 3 – nothing can happen without three forces (active, passive, neutralizing). This is the form that underpins everything. The sequence of steps around the circumference express Gurdjieff’s idea of the Law of 7. Thinking of it like this the Enneagram can be said to be a generator of intelligence.
The inner lines are the intentional aspect of the subject in question and the steps around the outer edge are the outer manifestation. The 3 points of the triangle are like openings – places where new information or new ideas can enter.
For examples of sequence see how ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is constructed. In the tradition from which the Gospels were written, the format of a Sacred text usually took the form of a circle in which one half of the text was echoed by the other, though in a reversed way.
In ‘Our Father’ the prayer proceeds, anti-clockwise, from the world of God to the beings on the earth and ends with the needs we have as humans. Then the Beatitudes show us how this is to be realized … the sequence now is clockwise….. in ascension. At point 9 in both of these examples we have the demand to manifest the ‘will’ of God. (See also the ‘Ten Commandments’)
Another example of pattern and process can be found in J.G. Bennett’s book ‘The Enneagram’ in the chapter ‘the kitchen as cosmos’. He goes into great detail as regards the specific function of each of the points and their relationships with each other. He sums up the whole process as ‘The meal that is cooked in our lives is the Soul and the raw material of this meal is the sum total of our experience.’
Ouspensky and ‘Fragments of an Unknown Teaching’
This is the book written by P.D.Ouspensky and published in 1949. The entire contents of this book give us a definitive reference for Gurdjieff’s teaching as laid down in 1916.. ………. Ouspensky says, ‘The right understanding of symbols cannot lead to dispute. A symbol deepens knowledge and it cannot remain theoretical because it intensifies the striving towards real truth, towards the union between knowledge and being. Pure knowledge cannot be transmitted, but by being expressed in symbols it is covered by them as if by a veil. For those who desire to know and also know how to look this veil becomes transparent.’ …. Ouspensky reports Gurdjieff as saying, ‘All knowledge can be included in the Enneagram and with the help of the Enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a man is able to put into the Enneagram does he actually know.. that is understand…. Everything can be included and read in the Enneagram’ (pages 284 – 289)
As students of the Gurdjieff Method we believe that the Enneagram should be kept close to its source and used as a tool for the development of Consciousness.
Dimitri Peretzi says …..
‘Whether we acknowledge this or not the need to develop consciousness is in us. It is a great force that pushes us to do things in life. It has nothing to do with those everyday goals that centre on achieving social recognition, forging a successful career or improving our feel-good factor. The deep seated intuitions to develop consciousness come from our very existence, from our own moment to moment experience of the taste, understanding and significance of ‘I am’ ….. ‘I exist’.
‘Understanding the Enneagram’ compiled by JEB