​Where Did the Enneagram Come From? 6 Trailblazers and Innovators

Updated on May 23, 2018
B. Leekley profile image

Brian minored in philosophy in college. His interest in the enneagram began in 2001 when his wife, in a career advancement, was tested.

This article tells about the history of the development of the enneagram of personality.

There is more than one "school of thought" of enneagram of personality teachings, using different, though overlapping, terminology and approaches. I have endeavored to evenhandedly describe their origins, focusing on six trailblazers.

  • George Gurdjieff taught that the enneagram symbol, derived from ancient traditions, represents the dynamics of any process.
  • Oscar Ichazo applied to the enneagram various schemata, such as fixations and ego types, used in teaching self-development.
  • Claudio Naranjo replaced Ichazo's terms with corresponding psychiatric terminology for neurotic extremes of personality types.
  • Don Richard Riso described each of the 9 personality types in its full range from neurotic to average to emotionally healthy.
  • Helen Palmer became a leading advocate of teaching the enneagram "in the narrative tradition".
  • A. Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas) combined enneagram studies with disciplines from Gestalt therapy to Zen to Reichian psychology.

Of course those six do not represent the be-all and end-all of innovations in enneagram of personality concepts and applications. Others have made and will make significant contributions, an instance being the development of the concept of triads. A look at the contributions of these six innovators does show the major steps in the early development of the enneagram of personality.

If you think I have neglected an equally significant enneagram pioneer, please leave a comment.

The Enneagram
The Enneagram | Source

An Indefinite History

The history of the beginning of the enneagram is indefinite. Early pioneers in its development claimed, without solid evidence, to have learned its concepts from ancient arcane traditions, only to later take back or hedge their words. Some at times claimed and at times denied originality. Some were cagey about their sources and influences. Form your own conclusions as, in reading about the early history of the enneagram, you encounter ambiguities.

As known in our time, the enneagram began with George Gurdjieff.

George Gurdjieff

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff | Source

Who Was Gurdjieff?

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949), an Armenian, was a student of world religions and wisdom traditions, a teacher of esoteric spirituality, a philosopher, and a businessperson. Gurdjieff opened and closed a number of schools around the world to teach his "Fourth Way" method of awakening higher consciousness. He taught that most humans are "asleep" when they think they are awake, in comparison with two possible higher levels of consciousness, which he called 'self-remembering' and 'objective consciousness'. Self-remembering is a prerequisite of objective consciousness, which is seeing things as they really are. Gurdjieff distinguished between a person's essence—which is inherent—and personality—which is learned or imitated. Learn more from Gurdjieff 's Ideas About Man and the Universe, a lecture by Kevin Langdon, October 15, 1986, and from The Gurdjieff Work, a lecture by Kevin Langdon, March 20, 1992.

Gurdjieff and the Enneagram

P. D. Ouspensky, a Gurdjieff follower, shared a Gurdjieff lecture about the enneagram symbol in Chapter Fourteen (pages 285 to 305) of his 1949 book In Search of the Miraculous, which is online in pdf format at more than one location, such as here. The lecture alone, in pdf format, is here.

The explanation of the enneagram is over my head. As best I understand the chapter so far, Gurdjieff says that the enneagram symbol can be used to diagram any process. He uses a diatonic music scale as an example. He taught that the enneagram symbol should be imagined as being in perpetual motion, not motionless, and he actually taught it by drawing it on a floor and having students dance on it (cf pages 301 and 302).

Without giving verifiable specifics, Gurdjieff claimed that the enneagram symbol came from ancient occult sources, but he also said that the enneagram can not be found anywhere before him in its complete form.

What the West knows of the Enneagram began with George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher of enormous personal magnetism, who alluded to the Enneagram as a Sufi oral teaching device that he used to recognize the students' aptitudes for particular kinds of inner life training.... Gurdjieff's students worked with the Enneagram's mathematical properties, but most of what they learned was transmitted through nonverbal movement exercises.... [Helen Palmer. The Enneagram Understanding...Page 10]

Gurdjieff's Sources

Gurdjieff did not take credit for originating the enneagram, but he was vague about his source(s). Some of those who have studied the matter have deduced from direct or indirect evidence that Gurdjieff learned the enneagram and/or his philosophy from Sufis. Learn more here.

Others say that Gurdjieff's sources instead, or also, were the Christian 'desert fathers' and 'desert mothers'. A prominent advocate of this view is Richard Rohr. Also mentioned as likely Christian influences have been Evagrius Ponticus (or Praktikos) (345-399 AD), Ramon Llull (Raimundus Lullus) (ca. 1232 – ca. 1315), who in his writings used a 9-pointed wheel to diagram human virtues and vices, attributes of God, etc., and Athanasius Kircher (1601 or 1602–1680), whose book Arithmologia has an image on its cover with some similarities to the enneagram.

And others argue that a source of the enneagram was the Kabbalah, ancient teachings of Jewish mysticism described in such medieval works as the Zohar.

Others assert that Gurdjieff's sources date even further back, such as to Pythagoras in ancient Greece.

My supposition is that Gurdjieff in his travels and studies picked up ideas here and there and combined them and improvised off of them in his own way, which is how philosophies happen. Learn more here.

Oscar Ichazo

Influence of Gurdjieff on Ichazo

The next major figure in the development of the enneagram of personality was Bolivian Oscar Ichazo (born 1931).

The online article "Buenos Aires Mystery School? Oscar Ichazo, Arica and Castaneda" by Corey Donovan quotes from a 1973 interview with Ichazo published in the 1982 Arica Institute publication Interviews with Oscar Ichazo . In brief, Ichazo said that when he was 19, he met a man in La Paz, Bolivia who was in a little group in Buenos Aires, Argentina that studied such consciousness raising techniques as the Gurdjieff work, the Kaballah, Sufism, and Zen Buddhism. The group mentored Ichazo for over two years and then helped him to journey to the East to study such traditions as yogas, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the I Ching. I have not yet found collaboration of this story.

Decades later Ichazo discussed these and other early influences in his "Letter to the Transpersonal Community." (Note: Until recent times, that letter was available at the Arica Institute website home page, under Articles. Now I cannot get to the Arica Institute website. The link I've given is to a copy of the "Letter" at the Scribd website.)

In the "Letter ..." Ichazo disparages the originality of Gurdjieff's teachings, finding them rather to be universal concepts taught in ancient Hindu scriptures, by the Magi, by philosophers of ancient Greece, and so on. He denies that Gurdjieff created the enneagram symbol shown by Ouspensky, saying that an enneagram was one of the 'seals' of Pythagoras. I have not yet found supporting evidence for or against Ichazo's claim that Gurdjieff did not significantly influence him or that he (Ichazo) learned the enneagram from Pythagoras, not Gurdjieff. I am still looking for a clear image of a Pythagorean enneagram.

In the "Letter ...", Ichazo clarified what his own original contributions were to the development of the enneagram and distinguished his uses of the enneagram. He expressed appreciation that Claudio Naranjo taught what he learned from Ichazo accurately and with due credit.

Protoanalysis and Enneagrams

From his studies and ponderings, Ichazo developed a system of concepts and practices that he named Protoanalysis. Beginning in 1956, study groups met in major Latin American cities to learn and discuss Ichazo's ideas. In 1968 Ichazo lectured on Protoanalysis at the Institute of Applied Psychology in Santiago, Chile. That same year, in Arica, Chile, Ichazo founded the Arica School or Institute to teach Protoanalysis to select students. In 1971 he moved the school to the United States, initially to New York City. Nowadays the Arica Institute website lists a schedule of group trainings in a number of US states and other countries.

As part of his Protoanalysis program, Ichazo developed over a hundred enneagrams—the enneagram symbol taught by Gurdjieff, with different sets of labels applied to the 9 points by Ichazo for different purposes. One way that Ichazo used the enneagram symbol was to diagram his concept of nine ego types, each with a distinctive 'fixation', 'trap', 'idea', 'passion', and 'virtue'.

The table shows Ichazo's English language enneagram labels for the nine ego types.

An example is that a personality type 9 (like me) tends to be slothful (indolent, lazy), which may manifest as daydreaming, being "spaced out", indulging in escapism, or focusing on busywork and matters of little consequence instead of priorities. A Type 9 avoids asserting hisherself. Nines tend to feel unlovable and so try to be unnoticed and to keep everyone they encounter placated. Once they get the idea that God's love includes them, they can begin to replace habitual sloth with effective action.

Ichazo's Enneagram Labels for Ego Types

 
Type
Fixation
Trap
Passion
Holy Idea
Virtue
1
Perfectionist
Resentment
Perfection
Anger
Perfection
Serenity
2
Giver
Flattery
Freedom
Pride
Will
Humility
3
Performer
Vanity
Efficiency
Deceit
Harmony
Truthfulness
4
Romantic
Melancholy
Authenticity
Envy
Origin
Equanimity
5
Observer
Stinginess
Observer
Avarice
Omniscience
Detachment
6
Trooper
Cowardice
Security
Fear
Strength
Courage
7
Epicure
Planning
Idealism
Gluttony
Wisdom
Sobriety
8
Boss
Vengeance
Justice
Excess
Truth
Innocence
9
Mediator
Indolence
Seeker
Sloth
Love
Action

Claudio Naranjo

Claudio Naranjo, trained in gestalt psychology by Fritz Perls and in the enneagram by Oscar Ichazo, brought the enneagram into mainstream psychology.
Claudio Naranjo, trained in gestalt psychology by Fritz Perls and in the enneagram by Oscar Ichazo, brought the enneagram into mainstream psychology. | Source

Claudio Naranjo was born in 1932 in Valparaiso, Chile. As a young man he trained as a pianist and composer. In 1959 he graduated from a medical school in Santiago, Chile, with a Medical Doctor (MD) degree. He then studied and did his residency in psychiatry. In the following years he was a teacher, researcher, and scholar at universities in Chile and in the United States. His areas of research were medical education, perceptual learning, personality assessment, and psychedelic therapy.

For a time he was an apprentice of Fritz Perls, and he began an association with Esalen Institute, where he was a successor of Perls when in 1969 Perls moved to Canada.

Naranjo, Ichazo and the Enneagram

The online article "Dr Claudio Naranjo" at The Naranjo Institute website says in part on that topic, "The accidental death of Dr Naranjo’s son on the eve of Easter of 1970 prompted his return to Chile and took him on a spiritual pilgrimage and under the guidance of a Bolivian spiritual teacher Oscar Ichazo at the Arica Institute in northern Chile. Ichazo taught Dr Naranjo and a small group of students a profound and insightful spiritual and psychological method of personality typing which he called Protoanalysis. This powerful body of esoteric knowledge later become known as The Enneagram and from that time has spread widely throughout the world. Dr Naranjo was able to enrich the Enneagram with his deep understanding of the human psyche and the western psychological traditions, as outlined in his classic work on the subject Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View."

A copy in pdf format is online here.

In chapter 2 of that book, Naranjo describes the enneagram figure and what he called the nine "ennea-types", and he related them to neurotic extremes of personality types described in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

In the YouTube video linked above, "Claudio Naranjo - Seeker After Truth - Interview by Lain McNay", Naranjo distinguishes Ichazo's from his own role in the development of the enneagram of personality. See the transcript of the interview at http://www.conscious.tv/text/49.htm.

The interview says in part:

"Claudio: Well, he told me a number of things over time but perhaps I should preface everything I say about him [Ichazo] by telling you that he never described any of the character types. When people say, “A [type] One is like this” or “A [type] Two is like that” or “The pride type has such-and-such traits”, that comes from my own work...."

Ensuing Years

Naranjo has continued in the ensuing years to apply the Enneagram in his work as a scholar, teacher, and writer. He has written several books about the Enneagram. He is an important figure in the Human Potential Movement. To learn about Dr. Naranjo's concept of an existential psychodynamics, his multi layered theory of neuroses, his teaching of the enneagram as a self-improvement tool, his Gestalt theory, his ideas on meditation, religion, and other topics, and his "Seekers After Truth" (SAT) program combining meditation, the psychology of enneatypes, and Gestalt therapy, see his personal website and his SAT website.

Murky HIstory

Notice in the above YouTube video "The Origin of the Enneagram - Claudio Naranjo Speaks - June 2010" that, at 1:33 to 4:33 minutes, Naranjo says that Ichazo at one time claimed he learned the enneagram from very ancient Sumerian and Babylonian sources and then changed his story and said he got his idea of the enneagram of ego fixations from higher sources--meaning, I gather, from his own intuitive insights. Naranjo then says that he followed Ichazo's example (and the advice of Oscar Wilde that if you want your ideas to gain fame, attribute them to a famous person) and used to claim that his writings on enneatypes came via Ichazo from ancient Babylonian and Sufi sources. He says that actually during his months of studying under Ichazo, Ichazo only talked about the enneagram for about six hours and then said nothing about specific types. Naranjo says he himself got his enneatypes ideas from automatic writing and then verified them through observation.

When principle figures in the history of the development of something change and embellish their stories and explanations, that makes the history murky and uncertain. Did they learn it, discover it, or create it, or some of each? Why can't historical figures help historians by being straightforward?

From Naranjo to a Few Students to the World

From what I have read and have heard on videos, it seems that both Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo have had the attitude that esoteric topics like the Enneagram should be taught in confidentiality to selected students. Esoteric, after all, means for the select few. But, against their admonitions, the esoteric Enneagram went mainstream. Some of their students taught others, and they in turn did their own research, wrote their own books, and taught open-to-the-public classes. I think of it as the Jurassic Park phenomena—good ideas escape restraint and breed spinoff good ideas. Here I will only give some highlights of this process in the case of the Enneagram.

One of those to whom Naranjo taught the Enneagram was the Jesuit priest Robert Ochs. With Naranjo's authorization [see minutes:seconds 5:00 to 5:20 in the "The Origin of the Enneagram - Claudio Naranjo" YouTube video, linked above], Ochs taught the Enneagram at Loyola, the Jesuit university in Chicago. Two of Ochs's students, Patrick O'Leary and Jerome Wagner, became Enneagram teachers, and O'Leary was a co-author of one of the first books on the Enneagram, The Enneagram, a Journey of Self Discovery, by Maria Beesing, Robert Nogosek, and Patrick O'Leary, published in 1984.

The whole while, course notes were getting photocopied and passed around among Jesuits, and then among others in the Catholic Church. Soon there were Enneagram programs in Catholic retreat centers all over North America, emphasizing spiritual direction and counseling within Catholic spirituality tradition. There have also been Catholic critics and defenders of the Enneagram. See also this defense. The Jesuit priests who taught the Enneagram included Paul Robb, the founder of the Institute for Spiritual Leadership, and Tad Dunne, who had been one of Ochs's students and who taught the Enneagram to Don Richard Riso.

Don Richard Riso

Don Richard Riso (1946-2012) was a Jesuit seminarian studying theology at the University of Toronto at the time in 1973 that he learned about the Enneagram from 9 pages of descriptions of the 9 personality types. From other Jesuits in the following months he collected more material about the enneagram into a loose leaf binder. By 1975 Riso was focusing on enneagram work.

One of his contributions to ways of thinking about the Enneagram of Personality was Levels of Development. That is the concept that a person of a given personality type is at any time somewhere on a continuum from psychologically very healthy, balanced, self-actualized, and mature to the extreme opposite, with most people most of the time being somewhere in the average middle.

In his first book on the enneagram, Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, first published in 1987 by Houghton Mifflin, and in his subsequent works, Riso described the levels of development at length for each personality type.

Riso also made a number of other contributions to the development of the Enneagram of Personality, such as describing the healthy aspects of each type, clarifying and expanding developments by Ichazo and Naranjo, introducing new enneagram studies terminology, and so on. Through the years Riso often collaborated with his colleague Russ Hudson.

Helen Palmer

My copy of Helen Palmer's 1st enneagram book
My copy of Helen Palmer's 1st enneagram book | Source

In the early 1970s, Claudio Naranjo taught the enneagram to Helen Palmer, among others. Harper Row published Palmer's book The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life in 1988. Oscar Ichazo's Arica Institute sued Palmer for copyright infringement. The Arica Institute mostly lost the case. The case is documented in Arica Institute, Inc., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Helen Palmer and Harper & Row Publishers, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees. No. 771, Docket 91-7859. United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Argued Jan. 30, 1992. Decided July 22, 1992 . {That legal document is available online here.}

The judge of the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals pointed out that only original expression can be copyrighted and that discovery of facts cannot be copyrighted. He further pointed out that the Arica School's own publications quote Ichazo as saying he did not invent or create the enneagram or the 'fixations', etc., but rather that those were facts of nature that he discovered. As regards the law case (and without implying any opinion as to whether the claimed facts are in fact facts), the Court of Appeals judge (like the original judge) said that he would take Ichazo at his word and pointed out that Ichazo could not with consistency both claim he was teaching discovered verifiable facts of nature and claim his teachings were copyrightable.

The judge affirmed that, while neither an idea nor a fact is copyrightable, an original expression of an idea or of a fact is copyrightable, and he pointed out that how a sequence of facts is presented might or might not be copyrightable. Putting historical facts in chronological order [like, for instance, to give my own examples, a bare list of the emperors of ancient Rome or of the major battles of World War I] would not be copyrightable, since there is nothing creative in such a list. Given that Arica publications represented the sequence of fixations as a natural fact, like the rainbow color sequence, and not a subjective choice, it followed that no creativity was involved in presenting that discovered sequence. However, the judge concluded that Ichazo's putting the sequence of the fixations of the nine personality types as labels on the enneagram was original -- Gurdjieff's depictions of the enneagram had no words on them -- and was at least minimally creative, and there were other ways in which others could present the sequence, so that that paticular way of labeling the enneagram was copyrightable. However, he agreed with the original judge that Palmer's uses of copyrightable Arica material was permissible as "fair use."

While Ichazo and his Arica School mostly lost the copyright infringement case, the case also had positive results for him. It put on record his role as in some respects the discoverer and in some respects the originator of the Enneagram of the Fixations, the precursor of the Enneagram of Personality. The case stopped his seminal contributions from being ignored and forgotten. From what I have read, most important, major works on the Enneagram since then have given due credit and honor to Gurdjieff, Ichazo, and Naranjo.

Another effect of the case was to let all in the world know that anyone had the right to give the Enneagram of Personality their own descriptions, interpretations, and developments, or to put the enneagram symbol itself to whatever other purpose.

Regarding the differences between Ichazo and Palmer, see also Ichazo's "Letter to the Transpersonal Community", cited above in the Ichazo capsule.

Learn more at Enneagram Worldwide. That is the website of a nonprofit organization founded by Helen Palmer and David Daniels and dedicated to "enneagram studies in the narrative tradition." That refers to a method of teaching the enneagram by having students observe a facilitator interview a panel of volunteers whose personality types have been tested. As the volunteers talk about their ways of responding to life experiences, students can see what people of the same enneagram personality type have in common. Some sense of this can be cleaned by searching YouTube on:
conscioustv mcnay enneagram type
and watching that series of videos.

A. H. Almaas and beyond

Naranjo and Almaas

Claudio Naranjo also taught A. Hameed Ali, who has the pen name A. H. Almaas. He was born in Kuwait in 1944 into a Muslim family. He moved to the USA at age 18 to study physics at University of California. By the time he was studying for his PhD, he had taken an interest in self-development through spiritual and psychological techniques. In Claudio Naranjo's classes circa 1972, he learned meditation, bodywork, Gestalt Therapy, and the Enneagram. He went on to learn from a Zen Buddhist master, from a Freudian therapist who was a practitioner of Gurdjieff's Fourth Way techniques, and from a Reichian psychologist. He studied depth psychology, the Judeo-Christian mystics, and Sufism.

Ali (or Almaas) synthesized these influences into a mix of techniques—including teaching the use of the Enneagram of Personality for self-understanding and self-development—that he called the Diamond Approach. To teach that approach, in 1976 Hameed Ali founded the Ridhwan School in Boulder, Colorado. Today Ridhwan School has over a dozen locations in the United States and at least one location each in Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, and Sweden.

And then ...

The 1980s were years of Enneagram of Personality research. By the 1990s the Enneagram of Personality was becoming an established field of study, with its own professional organizations, trainings, and standardized tests.

In the year 1994:
* Helen Palmer and David Daniels started The Association of Enneagram Teachers in the Narrative Tradition, which has since been renamed The Enneagram Association in the Narrative Tradition;
* Helen Palmer and David Daniels convened the first International Enneagram Conference, hosted at Stanford University;
* Maria Beesing, David Daniels, Theodorre Donson, Andreas Ebert, Russ Hudson, Kathy Hurley, Patrick O'Leary, Helen Palmer, and Don Riso founded the International Enneagram Association (IEA).

In 1995 Don Riso and Russ Hudson founded The Enneagram Institute. Probably before then, the two constructed the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) personality type test, which they refined over the ensuing years.

By the 2000s, the enneagram was being used for hiring and promotions in businesses and nonprofits. I first heard of the enneagram in 2001 when, as part of the process of a major career advancement, my wife was given both a Myers-Briggs and an Enneagram of Personality test.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Brian Leekley

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      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        4 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks for the citation, Martin. I think that could be one of the sources to which Gurdjieff referred obliquely.

      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        24 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks, Martin, for the interesting citation. I googled on:

        enneagram Kabbalah OR Zohar

        and found many interesting articles. I will probably add something about the Kabbalah to this history of the enneagram when I get around to it.

      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks for your nice comment, Terry27. The Addison book sounds interesting. Sometime I'll get a library copy.

        The enneagram has been very helpful to me in better understanding myself (type 9) and my wife (type 7).

      • Terry27 profile image

        Terry Fatland 

        4 years ago from Southern California

        B. Leekley, thank you very much for putting this intelligent, professional, and thought provoking article together. I find the Enneagram rather fascinating and to think that employers use this in the hiring process makes it more interesting. I have a book entitled, "The Enneagram and Kabbalah: Reading Your Soul," by Rabbi Howard A. Addison.

        Voted Up, Useful, and Interesting.

      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks, billybuc.

      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks, Gus. A lot of it is over my head, too, but I still find the topic interesting and remain curious about it.

      • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

        Brian Leekley 

        5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Thanks, Audrey.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        It is, indeed, how philosophies happen. Is there any such thing as an original thought? Excellent summary of a complicated topic.

      • GusTheRedneck profile image

        Gustave Kilthau 

        5 years ago from USA

        Hello B. Leekley -

        This is a very fascinating disclosure, all right. Let there be no doubt about that ! I concur most solidly with the same conclusion made by Audrey Howitt. It is inescapable.

        There is but one problem with the piece. I don't understand a word of it. Well, I take that back. I rapidly learned how to spell Gurdjieff's name (I believe...)

        Best wishes to you all,

        Gus :-)))

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 

        5 years ago from California

        This was fascinating! Sharing this!

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