History of the Enneagram

Lull Enneagram diagram

Well, on the heels of talking about whether or not the Enneagram is demonic, I realized it would be a good idea to provide a history of the ideas that brought this personality model into being. I don’t know all there is to know on this topic, but over the years I’ve gleaned and put together some interesting bits that come together the form at least the spine of a history. Some of this material is taken from my book, Becoming Your True You: God, the Enneagram and Your Unique Purpose.

First, we have to consider what some think is a troublesome symbol. It looks ever-so-vaguely like a pentagram, but it is NOT. Penta is Greek for “five,” and ennea is Greek for “nine.” The word “gram” means “drawing.” So, enneagram just means “nine drawing.” It’s a picture of nine points, all of them connected by lines. Each of these lines means something; they are not arbitrary or optional. Why nine points? Each point represents one of the nine personality types.

Second, the Enneagram is not a religion. People of many faiths, and no faith, learn and benefit from the Enneagram. It’s like anything else in life: you bring you worldview to whatever you encounter. So, there are books and classes on the Enneagram from a Buddhist perspective or a New Age or Christian or Atheist perspective. But it is not a faith-based system. It’s just a thing that is true, like the sky being blue or the Earth rotating on its axis or me hating beets. If a thing is true, it is because God made it to be so. For some reason I don’t understand, the human mind was fashioned in such a way that it falls into one of nine ways of being and of experiencing the world.

Some people think that the Enneagram involves astrology. Nope. I don’t know a thing about astrology, and I’ve been studying and teaching the Enneagram for about 20 years. You can add any ancillary accessory to the Enneagram, just like you can paint your brown horse blue. So, some people may want to add on to the Enneagram, but that’s totally unnecessary, because the system works just great without it. I saw a link online once to someone using the Enneagram with Vedic astrology (whatever THAT is), but again, that’s about someone bringing his or her worldview to whatever they encounter.

Third, the Enneagram is not a replacement for the Holy Spirit. It’s not as if you will learn a model of human behavior that gives you such clarity that you no longer need the guidance and counsel of the Spirit. No such model exists; we were never intended to be without the Spirit in our lives.

This brings me to the fourth point: the Enneagram is not THE answer. It is an incredible tool for knowing the self and knowing God, but it is not the only tool or resource. As my husband describes it, the Enneagram is the rocket engine you add to your tricycle of self-awareness. You can pedal your tricycle on its own and will eventually arrive at your destination, but the rocket engine will get you there a lot faster.

So, maybe you already appreciate the Enneagram – but who discovered it? How long have people known about it? These are legitimate questions that I almost have answers for.

You see, some idea of nature breaking out into nine parts has shown up at different times and places all throughout history. The Greek philosopher Plotinus wrote 54 treatises on human nature in groups of nine, called The Enneads. In Christianity, there are nine Beatitudes and nine fruits of the spirit.

A fourth-century monk named Evagrius, while praying in the desert, noticed and described eight or nine patterns of cognitive or emotional resistance “that assail the mind during practice.” These formed the basis for what would become the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s fascinating that the wonderfully kooky Hieronymus Bosch painted The Seven Deadly Sins as a circle reminiscent of the Enneagram symbol.

In the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is stunningly similar to the Enneagram symbol in both form and content, with a fascinating difference. There is a tenth symbol that unites the other nine; one famous Enneagram teacher refers to that tenth symbol as Jesus. It reminds me of that beautifully poetic and powerful idea of Jesus holding all things together by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3, Col. 1:17). I know essentially nothing about the Kabbalah and am neither advocating for not against it here; I’m just showing another instance where a grouping of nine shows up.

So, this concept of the number nine and human nature or growth has been around for a long time. It wasn’t until the 20th century, though, that this concept and the Enneagram symbol met. Now, about that symbol…

Its origins are quite fuzzy, but it’s been around a long time, too. Peter O’Halloran revealed in his excellent video on the history of the Enneagram that the first Enneagram-like symbol in the Western world was published in about 1305 by a Christian scholar named Raymond Lull. Each of his symbol’s nine points represented one of the nine “dignities of God.” Why nine? I don’t know! But it just keeps showing up.

Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar, used an Enneagram on the cover of his book, Arithmologia, in1655. How did he or Raymond know about it? Who knows!

Then enigmatic George Gurdjieff brought the symbol to the Western world in the early 1900s. It is said that he discovered the symbol while traveling in the Near East. However, he didn’t use it in the way we do today. Instead, a man named Oscar Ichazo later correlated the symbol to the Greek Enneads and the idea behind the seven deadly sins to map human behavior to the symbol in what we now call the Enneagram of Personality. Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist, then brought this concept of the Enneagram to the U.S. in the 1970s.

Since then, his students have gone on to more clearly define the nine personality types. Pioneers in this field include Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson, Helen Palmer, David Daniels and others.

And the Enneagram’s history isn’t done yet. It’s still being written! Discoveries and insights about the human psyche and how it maps to the symbol/system continue to come forth. The mind is too complex to ever fully map or understand, but those bent on understanding themselves and others better keep exploring what else the Enneagram may contain.

I hope this overview was helpful as you continue your journey of spiritual growth. If you’d like a handy visual reference tool of the Enneagram system that my husband created, you can get it here: https://bit.ly/3zPISWf.



Leave a Comment

Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer

This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.