The Enneagram

by Sep Meyer

(Based on an article in the Skeptic's Dictionary)

An enneagram is, literally, a drawing with nine lines. The Enneagram is a New Age mandala to personality typing. The drawing is based upon a belief in the mystical properties of the numbers 7 and 3.  It consists of a circle with nine equidistant points on the circumference. The points are connected by two figures: one connects the number 1 to 4 to 2 to 8 to 5 to 7 and back to 1; the other connects 3, 6 and 9. The 142857 sequence is based on the fact that dividing 7 into 1 yields an infinite repetition of the sequence 142857. In fact, dividing 7 into any whole number not a multiple of 7 will yield the infinite repetition of the sequence 142857. Also, 142857 x 7 = 999999. And of course 1 divided by 3 yields an infinite sequence of threes. The triangle joining points 3, 6 and 9 links all the numbers on the circle divisible by 3. To ascribe metaphysical or mystical significance to the properties of numbers is mere superstition and a throwback to an earlier time in human history when, as Scott Adams' Dilbert might  have it, ignorance was considered a point of view.

The enneagram represents nine personality types. How the types are defined depends on whom you ask. Some define them by a fundamental weakness or sin. Others define them by a fundamental energy that drives one's entire being. Some follow classical biorhythm theory and classify the nine types according to three types of types: mental, emotional and physical. Others classify the nine types according to three types of instinctual drives: the Self-Preserving drives, the Social drives and the Sexual drives.  Some follow Gurdjieff, who claims to have followed Sufism, and type the types as mental, emotional and instinctual.

The "father" of the enneagram is acknowledged to be Oscar Ichazo who learned of the enneagram through Ouspensky's writings of Gurdjieff.  He called his system Arica,  after the coastal city in northern Chile, near the Peruvian border, where he opened his first school. In the early 1990s.

The Arica system constitutes a body of practical and theoretical knowledge in the form of a nine-level hierarchy of training programmes aimed at the total development of the human being.... The Arica system observes that the human body and psyche is composed of nine independent yet interconnected systems. Particular imbalances within these systems are called "fixations".... These nine separate components are represented by enneagons-- nine pointed figures that map the human psyche....[T]here are seven fundamental enneagons associated with the nine ego fixations. Thus, the enneagons constitute the structural maps of a human psyche ... [and] provide a guide through which a person may better understand oneself and one's interactions with others.... An ego fixation is an accumulation of life experience organized during one's childhood and which shapes one's personality. Arica training seeks to overcome the control and influence of the ego fixations so that the individual may return to the inner balance with which he or she was born.

Ichazo would make claims like 'the dominant passion of the Indolent fixation is Sloth; the dominant passion of the Resentment fixation is Anger; and the dominant passion of the Flattery fixation is Pride.' In short, he developed a typology of "ego fixations" based on the classical Christian notion of the seven cardinal sins plus fear and deceit

Ichazo claims to have been trained in the mystical arts of Sufism, the kabala and Zen, and to have studied martial arts, yoga, Buddhism, Confucianism, the I Ching and alchemy. ..He began teaching the enneagram, he states,  after spending a week in a "divine coma" and has  never claimed to have a scientific basis for his theory of personality types. His notions were based on visions and insights taken from numerous eclectic sources and freely mixed into an amalgam of mystical psychobabble. 

Ichazo claimed to have discovered the personality type meaning of the enneagram while in some kind of ecstatic state or trance under the influence of some spirit or angelic being: the Archangel Gabriel, the “Green Qu’Tub” [a Sufi spiritual master] or Metatron, the prince of the archangels

Like Gurdjieff, he claimed we are born with an essence (nature) which conflicts with our personality (nurture), and we must struggle to harmonize the two and return to our true essence. He founded his Arica Institute in the late 1960s. The Institute continues to exist, though it has contracted somewhat from its heyday in the early 1990s, and now offers training in "Nine Hypergnostic Systems" and T'ai chi chuan in centres in New York and Europe. 

Several former disciples have modified Ichazo's teachings during the past twenty years. Claudio Naranjo attended Ichazo's lectures on ennead personality types in Santiago, Chile, in the 1970's and published a book called Enneatypes in Psychotherapy in 1995. A Jesuit priest named Bob Ochs got the enneagrams from Naranjo and taught courses on enneagrams at Loyola University in Chicago in 1971. Naranjo also taught Helen Palmer, who claims to be carrying on the esoteric oral tradition in her writings, but changed the terminology: enneagram replaced enneagon, and personality type replaced ego fixation.

Palmer says that the "Enneagram is a psychological and spiritual system with roots in ancient traditions."  She types people by fundamental weakness or sin: anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth, fear, and deceit. She calls these weaknesses "capital tendencies." Each of us has a personality that is dominated by one of the nine capital tendencies. Knowing what type you, and what type others are, will put you on the road to "self-understanding and empathy, giving rise to improved relationships," says Palmer. 

Each personality type is numbered and labelled.

The Perfectionist One Anger
The Giver Two Pride
The Performer Three Deceit
The Romantic Four Envy
The Observer Five Avarice
The Trooper Six Fear
The Epicure Seven Gluttony
The Boss Eight Lust
The Mediator Nine Sloth

Personality typing is somewhat arbitrary. The classification systems used by Ichazo, and modified by Palmer and others according to their own idiosyncratic beliefs, are not without merit. For example, one certainly could learn much of importance about oneself by focusing on one's central fault or faults, but those who advocate using the enneagram seem to be interested in much more than a bit of self-knowledge. Entire metaphysical systems, psychologies, religions, cosmologies and New Age springboards to higher consciousness and fuller being are said to be found by looking into the enneagram. There is seemingly no end to what one can find in these nine lines.

Some, for example, have developed personality profiles for different "styles" of personalities.

Style Five 

The life of the style Five centres on their thinking. Healthy Fives are both highly intellectual and involved in activity. They can be, if not geniuses, then extraordinarily accomplished. As the most intellectual of the nine types, they are often superb teachers and/or researches. Many healthy Fives are fine writers because of their acute observational skills and a developed idealism. They are highly objective and able to see all sides of a question and understand them.

When Fives become less healthy, they tend to withdraw. Instead of dealing with their sensitivity by being emotionally detached from results, they split off from reality, living in worlds of their own creating and not answering the demands of active living. Their natural independence as a thinker degenerates into arrogance. They can become quite arrogant or eccentric. In the movies, Fives are the "mad professors."

Fives you may know: Bill Gates, Scrooge, Buddha, T. S. Eliot, Jean Paul Sartre, Rene Descartes, Timothy McVeigh, Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, H. R. Haldeman, Ted Kaczynski, Jacqueline Onassis and Vladimir Lenin.

[Enneagram Central]


What this typology is based on is anybody's guess. But it is reminiscent of astrological forecasts. There does not seem to be any way to validate this typology. At the heart of this New Age spiritual psychology are a number of concepts vaguely reminiscent of biorhythms, numerology, astrology, tarot card reading, and Myers-Briggs personality inventories.  Nothing in the typology resembles anything approaching a scientific interest in personality.

The above Style was said to be that of the author of the Skeptic's Dictionary article, as a result of a test he took. It was accompanied by the following advice:

Does this fit you? If it does not, go back over the test, rethink some of your answers and see if you come up with your style. This is not easy. Your enneagram style is an energy you have been using without knowing all your life. You have a vested interest in not knowing this energy because it may slightly alter what you have considered your motivation for many things. Besides, this energy has a down side you may not like to acknowledge.

"If the style doesn't fit, go back and change some answers until it fits but be careful because you may be deceiving yourself when you answered the questions the first time or you may be deceiving yourself with your revisions! Note also how the profile contains several weasel words: 'can be', 'are often', 'tend to', 'can become'. The central feature of the Five is thinking. Nobody needs a personality test to determine if his or her dominant energy, drive, fixation, passion, etc., is the intellectual. Thinkers are observers and intellectuals are often arrogant. This is not a scoop. Nor is it very useful, as is evident by the listing of people who are allegedly all Fives."

The limits of the enneagram are the limits of the imagination of those who work with them. One "master" claims that the Five's "primary passion is avarice in terms of their time and possessions, and their chief feature is withdrawal from experience." Another "expert" describes the Five as The Thinker and identifies this type by its dominant fear: fear of being overwhelmed by the world. We are told that if we want to get along with a Five

Be independent, not clingy. Speak in a straightforward and brief manner. I need time alone to process my feelings and thoughts. Remember that if I seem aloof, distant, or arrogant, it may be that I am feeling uncomfortable. Make me feel welcome, but not too intensely, or I might doubt your sincerity. If I become irritated when I have to repeat things, it may be because it was such an effort to get my thoughts out in the first place. Don't come on like a bulldozer. Help me to avoid my pet peeves: big parties, other people's loud music, overdone emotions, and intrusions on my privacy.

This is good advice for getting along with just about anybody, except for those who would rather be at a big party after spending the afternoon alone with a book.

We are also told that for a Five to reach his potential he must go against the grain and strive to be like an Eight, whose main vice is lust. The scientific studies supporting this claim seem to have been lost, however.

[The foregoing was adapted in large measure from the Skeptic's Dictionary website and can be found at  It contains a lot more material on this subject, plus innumerable links to other sources/resources.]

My own further reading led me to the following very interesting statement about the enneagram that is typical, not only of the vast number of courses being offered to the increasingly gullible self-help seeking public, but reinforces much of what has been written in the above section of this article.  It could be applied - indeed probably is - to any number of other so-called self-help disciplines.   I have replaced the word "enneagram" with the word "idea" in most cases.  You might like to try changing "idea" to whichever system you personally favour - and see whether it still makes as much sense to you.

The subject of several recent best-selling books, the "idea" is a fascinating, powerful system of psychology. . . 

The "idea"  is about people - how we are the same, how we are different, what makes us tick. It describes the nine personality styles that human beings most favour.  The descriptions of these styles are both profound and comprehensive, detailing the inner motivations, thought patterns and basic beliefs of each one. Newcomers to the "idea" are often amazed to find clear, accurate portraits of themselves and most everyone they know.

Part of the power of the "idea" is that it recognizes how human beings have sincerely different versions of reality. No version is presented as better than another. Each of the nine styles has its own internal logic and integrity. Each correctly perceives part of reality and has an area of "expertise." Each style has strengths, talents and advantages as well as limits, pitfalls and blind spots.

Enneagram styles are like nationalities. While we are all unique individuals, we belong to a larger group of which we are individual examples. If you have friends from other cultures, you know that on one level you are very aware of the differences between their culture and yours. The fact may contribute much to your relationship. On other levels, you and your friends connect affectionately in a way that bypasses how your cultures make you different.

Studying the "idea" will reveal the differences between your psychological orientation and those of other "psychological nationalities." With this awareness you can also connect more compassionately or usefully to others who have world views distinct from your own.

The major advantage to learning the "idea", of course, is to discover your own personality style. This can be a startling experience at first, but its usefulness soon emerges. Once you identify your core style, baffling aspects of your own behaviour may suddenly make sense. You might see more clearly why you sometimes think and act the way you do. As you tune further into your own inner workings, you might sense deeper beliefs, plus a way of seeing the world that shades your daily actions and relationships.

 You might also become aware of the ways you are caught up in the pitfalls of your style and cause yourself suffering. There could be little psychological traps you set for yourself, limits you place on your experience or habitual ways that you react to events without choice.

These insights can be helpful in that they provide motivation to work on one's self. Some responses that you now have may be outmoded and carried over from childhood. You may act blindly at times. To an extent, you may find that your Enneagram style amounts to something like a hypnotic trance, as though part of you sleepwalks through life, relating to an idea of the world, rather than the world itself.

Most psychotherapists would say that just having insight into your behaviour is not enough to change it. Learning about the "idea" won't magically transform you, but it will give you a tool that is greatly clarifying and uncannily useful.

Just as the "idea" will show you how you are caught, it also points to your higher capacities - what you are good at, what creative resources are present when you are happiest and most awake. It will direct you toward the source of your personal power and give you a major tool for living more fully in the present-day world, basing your choices on your actual needs.

The "idea" is a system of psychology. It is neither inherently esoteric nor spiritual. You might, however, find that it has deep spiritual implications in that it helps diagnose how you get in your own way and block the most free and soulful expression of your being.

On everyday levels, knowledge of the "idea" is helpful in dozens of ways, from understanding relationships to improving communication to handling difficult people. You may discover that your friendships reflect affinities for certain "idea" styles. You will also better pinpoint types of personalities that have been difficult for you to deal with. You may realize that the behaviour of some people that you always took personally never was personal; they were just acting blindly out of the limits of their own world view.

The Enneagram is especially useful in any professional context where communication is important. Attendees at workshops have included psychotherapists, teachers, lawyers, counselors, business people, artists, plumbers, filmmakers. Anyone who needs to deal effectively with other people benefits greatly from studying personality styles.