History of the Enneagram

According to an article written by Jerome Wagner, PhD, (enneagramspectrum.com) the roots of the Enneagram are disputed. Some authors believe they have found variations of the Enneagram symbol in the sacred geometry of the Pythagorians who 4000 years ago were interested in the deeper meaning and significance of numbers. This line of mystical mathematics was passed on through Plato, his disciple Plotinus, and subsequent neo-Platonists.

Some believe this tradition found its way into esoteric Judaism between the 14th and 17th centuries and on, through Philo, a Jewish neo-Platonist philosopher, where it later appears as the Tree of Life in the Cabalistic symbolism of ninefoldness.

Variations of this symbol also appear in Islamic Sufi traditions.  Around the 14th century the Naqshbandi Order of Sufism, is said to have preserved and passed on the Enneagram symbol.

Then on the front cover of a textbook written in the 17th century by the Jesuit mathematician and student of arithmology Athanasius Kircher, an Enneagram-like figure appears.

More recently George Gurdjieff (1879-1949), a Russian teacher of esoteric knowledge and a contemporary of Freud, used the Enneagram to explain the laws involved in the creation and unfolding of all the aspects of the universe. He alludes to his introduction to the Enneagram in the 1920’s during his visit to the Sufi Sarmouni monastery in Afghanistan.

Characters were symbolic of the three types of people to whom Gurdjieff referred: No. 1 centered in their physical body; No. 2 centered in their emotions and No. 3 centered in their minds.  Thus the gut, head and heart of the enneagram (the triads)

About the same time, Karen Horney (1885-1952) compiled a detailed theory of neurosis, with data from her patients. Horney believed neurosis to be a continuous process researched and determined three ways people interact with others in order to succeed in life. She referred to them as coping strategies.  Her research named ten patterns of neurotic needs. These ten needs are based upon things which she thought all humans require to succeed in life.  Horney divided these 10 needs into the categories of how people relate to others, by withdrawing, being dependent or moving against.  This a falls within the stances of the Enneagram.

In yet another culture and part of the globe, the Enneagram was taught by Oscar Ichazo (1976; 1982) as part of his Arica Training in South America. He found that the Enneagram organizes comprehensively the various laws operating in the human person. So while Gurdjieff applied the Enneagram’s process to all of reality, Ichazo made use of the Enneagram figure and dynamics to explain more fully the functioning of the human psyche. Ichazo claims to have arrived at his understanding of the Enneagram through his own independent studies and research.

Claudio Naranjo (1990; 1994), a Chilean psychologist, learned the tradition from Oscar Ichazo and brought the Enneagram further into Western psychology by reframing its concepts in contemporary psychological language. Naranjo elaborated and codified Ichazo’s explorations of the human personality still further.

In the early 1970’s Robert Ochs, S.J. and Helen Palmer (1988; 1995) studied the Enneagram system of personality with Naranjo. Through Ochs the Enneagram was introduced to various Christian communities, where Jerome Wagner, Maria Beesing, Robert Nogosek, and Patrick O’Leary (1984), Don Riso (1987; 1990), Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert (1990; 1992), Kathleen Hurley and Ted Donson (1991; 1993), Suzanne Zuercher (1992; 1993), et. al. became acquainted with it. These and other authors promulgated the Enneagram to a broader spiritual, psychological, educational, business and commercial audience.

My own note on the history: The Enneagram was originally taught verbally, narrative style.  Lecturer and author, Suzanne Stabile, has carried on that tradition since the 1980’s.  She has taught thousands around the world in a style of great wisdom along with wise storytelling both through lecture (her favorite style of teaching) and through the books she has authored. I am grateful for her and her commitment to sharing the Enneagram wisdom with me and so many.