What Are the Origins and History of the Enneagram?

October 17, 2023
Hady ElHady
What Are the Origins and History of the Enneagram?

Are you intrigued by the intricate web of human personalities and the profound influence they exert on our lives? Delve into the Enneagram, a dynamic system that unveils the diverse tapestry of human nature. From its ancient origins to its contemporary applications, this guide unlocks the secrets of the Enneagram, shedding light on the personalities that shape our world.

Explore the historical roots, early pioneers, key influences, and the evolution of Enneagram typology. Discover how this powerful tool, encompassing the Enneagram of Personality and the Enneagram of Virtues, serves as a compass for personal growth and self-awareness. Uncover the Enneagram's role in personal development, business leadership, and the art of hiring and recruiting. Embark on a journey of understanding, as we decode the enigmatic Enneagram.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a multifaceted system that provides profound insights into the intricacies of human personality. At its core, it is a typology that classifies individuals into nine distinct personality types, each characterized by its own set of traits, motivations, and behaviors. These types are represented by the points of a geometric figure known as the enneagram. However, the Enneagram is much more than just a personality test; it offers a holistic framework for self-discovery, personal growth, and understanding the people around us.

Key components of the Enneagram:

  • Nine Core Personality Types: The Enneagram defines nine primary personality types, each with its unique worldview, fears, desires, and coping mechanisms. These types are often referred to by numbers, such as Type 1, Type 2, and so on.
  • Wings: Each core type can be influenced by one or both of its adjacent types, referred to as "wings." These wings add nuances to a person's primary type, creating a more nuanced understanding of their personality.
  • Stress and Security Points: The Enneagram highlights how individuals may shift towards the traits of other types when under stress (disintegration) or feeling secure (integration). This dynamic nature reflects the complexity of human behavior.
  • Ego-Fixations and Holy Ideas: Each type is associated with specific ego-fixations, which represent distorted thought patterns, and holy ideas, which signify higher truths that each type seeks. Understanding these concepts is pivotal for self-awareness.
  • Passions and Virtues: The Enneagram explores the passions, which represent the emotional and psychological struggles of each type, and the corresponding virtues that individuals can cultivate to counteract their passions.
  • Paths to Growth: Beyond identifying one's type, the Enneagram offers paths to personal growth, encouraging individuals to move towards healthier behaviors, increased self-awareness, and greater empathy for others.

Importance of Understanding Enneagram Origins

Gaining a deeper understanding of the Enneagram origins is crucial for anyone seeking to engage with this powerful system effectively. While the Enneagram has gained popularity in recent years, delving into its historical roots provides a solid foundation for comprehending its complexities and appreciating its significance.

The importance of understanding Enneagram origins extends to various aspects:

  • Contextualization: Learning about the origins of the Enneagram helps you place it within its historical and cultural context. This context provides valuable insights into the system's development and evolution over time.
  • Credibility and Authenticity: Knowledge of the Enneagram's historical pioneers and their contributions adds credibility to its teachings. It underscores the authentic lineage of the system and its evolution from its earliest foundations.
  • Evolution of Thought: Exploring the Enneagram's historical journey reveals how the system has evolved and adapted to different cultural and philosophical influences. This evolution has contributed to its richness and versatility.
  • Deeper Insights: Understanding the Enneagram's historical underpinnings enables you to delve deeper into the nuances of the system. It allows you to connect the dots between ancient wisdom and modern applications.
  • Effective Application: When you comprehend the origins of the Enneagram, you can apply it more effectively in various areas of life, such as personal development, relationships, and leadership. This knowledge empowers you to harness the Enneagram's potential for positive change.

In essence, gaining insight into the origins of the Enneagram is like peeling back the layers of a profound and ancient wisdom tradition. It provides a solid foundation for your journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and understanding the diverse array of personalities that shape our world.

Historical Roots of the Enneagram

The origins of the Enneagram, like the system itself, are shrouded in mystery and debate. To understand this intricate system, we must first explore its historical roots.

Ancient Origins

The Enneagram's roots can be traced back to ancient wisdom and spiritual traditions. While it wasn't explicitly named as such, the Enneagram's fundamental concepts can be found in the work of Evagrius Ponticus, a Christian mystic who lived in the 4th century in Alexandria, Egypt. Evagrius identified eight "deadly thoughts," which are remarkably similar to the Enneagram types we know today.

These eight "deadly thoughts" were:

  1. Love of Self (Philautia): The first and most fundamental thought, representing self-love.
  2. Gluttony: Overindulgence or excessive consumption.
  3. Greed: Excessive desire for material wealth.
  4. Sloth: Laziness, avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
  5. Wrath: Anger and hostility.
  6. Envy: Jealousy and covetousness.
  7. Pride: Excessive belief in one's abilities, often seen as the root of all other thoughts.
  8. Lust: Intense or inappropriate desire.

These concepts, though not directly associated with Enneagram types, laid the foundation for understanding human vices and virtues.

Modern Development

The Enneagram, as we know it today, owes much of its modern development to the work of several key figures. While ancient wisdom provided the groundwork, it was in the 20th century that the Enneagram started taking its current shape.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff is credited with introducing the term "enneagram." However, Gurdjieff's use of the enneagram figure differed significantly from its current form. He employed it for various purposes, including sacred dances known as the Gurdjieff movements, but he did not develop the nine personality types associated with the Enneagram of Personality.

Oscar Ichazo emerged as a pivotal figure in shaping the contemporary Enneagram of Personality. In the 1950s, the Bolivian-born Ichazo began teaching programs of self-development, which he referred to as "Protoanalysis." Within Protoanalysis, Ichazo used the enneagram figure as one of several symbols and ideas. He eventually coined the term "Enneagram of Personality" (initially called the "Enneagon of Personality") and introduced critical concepts such as ego-fixations, holy ideas, passions, and virtues. Ichazo's teachings laid the groundwork for the Enneagram's psychological and spiritual dimensions.

Claudio Naranjo further developed the Enneagram, building upon Ichazo's teachings. Naranjo, who learned the Enneagram from Ichazo, expanded and taught his own understanding of it, particularly in the United States. He conducted workshops and seminars, contributing to the popularization of the Enneagram. Notably, two of Naranjo's students, Jesuit priests, adapted the Enneagram for use in Christian spirituality programs at Loyola University in Chicago.

Naranjo's teachings gained popularity in the 1970s, and in the following decades, numerous authors published books on the Enneagram of Personality. This surge in interest culminated in the First International Enneagram Conference in 1994, which attracted around 1,400 participants and received sponsorship from Stanford University's psychiatry department.

The Enneagram's historical journey showcases its evolution from ancient wisdom to a contemporary system with a diverse array of interpretations and applications. Understanding its origins provides valuable context for appreciating the depth and complexity of this intriguing personality typology.

Early Pioneers of the Enneagram

The development of the Enneagram was greatly influenced by the pioneering work of individuals who contributed to its evolution. Let's explore the significant contributions of early Enneagram pioneers:

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, often referred to simply as Gurdjieff, played a crucial role in introducing the term "enneagram." Although his use of the enneagram figure differed significantly from its contemporary understanding, Gurdjieff's contributions laid the visual foundation for the Enneagram.

Gurdjieff was a mystic, philosopher, and spiritual teacher who lived from 1866 to 1949. He was a charismatic figure known for his eclectic teachings, which blended elements of mysticism, psychology, and ancient wisdom. Gurdjieff believed that humans were asleep or in a state of unconsciousness and sought to awaken them to a higher state of consciousness.

Key points about Gurdjieff's contributions to the Enneagram:

  • Enneagram Figure: Gurdjieff used the enneagram figure primarily for purposes other than personality typing. He incorporated it into his spiritual teachings, employing it as a symbol in his sacred dances known as the Gurdjieff movements.
  • Numerical Symbolism: Gurdjieff assigned numerical values and meanings to various points on the enneagram figure. However, these meanings did not correspond to personality types as we understand them today.
  • Foundation for Future Development: While Gurdjieff did not develop the nine personality types associated with the Enneagram of Personality, his use of the enneagram figure provided a foundation upon which later pioneers would build.

Oscar Ichazo

Oscar Ichazo, a Bolivian-born psycho-spiritual teacher, is considered one of the principal sources of the contemporary Enneagram of Personality. His teachings in the 1950s and beyond laid the groundwork for the Enneagram's psychological and spiritual dimensions.

Key points about Ichazo's contributions to the Enneagram:

  • Protoanalysis: Ichazo developed a system he called "Protoanalysis," which incorporated the enneagram figure among other symbols and ideas. Protoanalysis focused on self-development and self-awareness.
  • Introduction of Ego-Fixations: Ichazo introduced the concept of ego-fixations, which are patterns of distorted thinking associated with each Enneagram type. These fixations represent the habitual ways in which individuals view themselves and the world.
  • Holy Ideas and Passions: Ichazo's teachings included the notions of holy ideas, which are higher truths that each type seeks, and passions, which are the emotional and psychological struggles each type faces.
  • Foundation of the Enneagram of Personality: Ichazo coined the term "Enneagram of Personality" (initially called the "Enneagon of Personality") and contributed significantly to the Enneagram's conceptual framework. His teachings served as a precursor to the contemporary Enneagram system.

Claudio Naranjo

Claudio Naranjo, influenced by Ichazo's teachings, further developed and popularized the Enneagram in the United States. His interpretations and adaptations played a crucial role in expanding the Enneagram's reach and impact.

Key points about Naranjo's contributions to the Enneagram:

  • Transmission of Ichazo's Teachings: Naranjo learned about the Enneagram from Ichazo and then developed his own understanding of the system. He conducted workshops and seminars, sharing his insights with a growing audience.
  • Influence on Christian Spirituality: Two of Naranjo's students, Jesuit priests, adapted the Enneagram for use in Christian spirituality programs at Loyola University in Chicago. This marked a significant integration of the Enneagram into religious contexts.
  • Wider Popularization: Naranjo's teachings gained popularity in the 1970s and beyond. His work, along with that of other authors, led to a surge in Enneagram-related literature and conferences.
  • Differences and Debates: Ichazo initially objected to Naranjo's and other teachers' interpretations of the Enneagram, considering them misinterpretations. These differences highlighted the complexity and diversity of Enneagram teachings.

Understanding the contributions of these early pioneers is essential for appreciating the Enneagram's evolution from its roots to its contemporary applications. Each figure left a unique imprint on the system, shaping it into the powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth that it is today.

Key Influences on Enneagram Development

The Enneagram of Personality, as a complex typology, draws inspiration from various sources, including spiritual traditions and psychological theories. Exploring these key influences sheds light on the rich tapestry of ideas that contribute to the Enneagram's depth and complexity:

Spiritual Traditions

The Enneagram has deep ties to a range of spiritual traditions, each providing unique insights into human nature and consciousness. These spiritual influences have significantly shaped the Enneagram's philosophical foundation:

  • Sufism: Sufi mysticism, an Islamic spiritual tradition, is often cited as an influence on the Enneagram. Sufi teachings emphasize the journey of self-discovery and the search for spiritual enlightenment, aligning with the Enneagram's focus on self-awareness and personal growth.
  • Christian Mysticism: Elements of Christian mysticism, particularly the works of Evagrius Ponticus and his identification of the eight "deadly thoughts," bear striking similarities to Enneagram types. The Enneagram's exploration of vices and virtues resonates with the Christian concept of sin and redemption.
  • Kabbalah: Some Enneagram interpretations draw parallels with Kabbalistic teachings, a form of Jewish mysticism. The Kabbalah's focus on the interconnectedness of all things and the pursuit of higher consciousness aligns with the Enneagram's holistic approach to understanding personality.

Psychological Theories

In addition to its spiritual underpinnings, the Enneagram has been influenced by various psychological theories and concepts. These psychological contributions enhance the Enneagram's applicability in the realms of personal development and understanding human behavior:

  • Psychoanalysis: The Enneagram's exploration of ego-fixations and unconscious motivations shares common ground with Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Both systems delve into the hidden aspects of the psyche that shape behavior and beliefs.
  • Jungian Psychology: Carl Jung's ideas on archetypes and the collective unconscious resonate with the Enneagram's concept of personality types and their universal patterns. Both emphasize the role of deep-seated patterns in shaping individual experiences.
  • Humanistic Psychology: The Enneagram aligns with the humanistic psychology movement, emphasizing self-actualization and personal growth. Concepts like self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-transcendence are central to both humanistic psychology and the Enneagram.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology: The Enneagram's examination of thought patterns and emotional reactions corresponds to the principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology. Both systems provide tools for recognizing and modifying maladaptive behaviors and thought processes.

By drawing from these diverse influences, the Enneagram offers a holistic perspective on human nature, blending spirituality and psychology to provide a comprehensive framework for personal growth and self-discovery.

Evolution of Enneagram Typology

The Enneagram has evolved over time, giving rise to different typologies and interpretations. Let's explore two significant aspects of this evolution: the Enneagram of Personality and the Enneagram of Virtues.

Enneagram of Personality

The Enneagram of Personality, also known simply as the Enneagram, is the most well-known and widely used typology within the Enneagram system. It defines nine core personality types, each characterized by distinct traits, motivations, and behavioral patterns. These types are represented by the points of the Enneagram figure, forming a dynamic web of interconnectedness.

Key features of the Enneagram of Personality:

  • Nine Core Types: The Enneagram identifies nine fundamental personality types, each with its own unique worldview, fears, desires, and defense mechanisms.
  • Wings: Each core type can be influenced by the two adjacent types on the Enneagram, known as "wings." These wings contribute nuances to a person's primary type.
  • Stress and Security Points: The Enneagram highlights how individuals may shift towards the traits of another type when under stress (disintegration) or feeling secure (integration).
  • Ego-Fixations and Holy Ideas: Each type has specific ego-fixations (distorted thought patterns) and holy ideas (higher truths) that shape their perception of reality.
  • Passions and Virtues: Passions represent the emotional and psychological struggles associated with each type, while virtues signify the qualities each type can develop to counteract their passions.
  • Self-Discovery and Growth: The Enneagram serves as a tool for self-awareness, personal development, and fostering empathy and understanding in relationships.

Enneagram of Virtues

The Enneagram of Virtues complements the Enneagram of Personality by emphasizing the cultivation of positive qualities and virtues associated with each type. While the Enneagram of Personality focuses on understanding and addressing ego-fixations and passions, the Enneagram of Virtues provides a pathway to personal growth and transformation.

Key aspects of the Enneagram of Virtues:

  • Virtuous Qualities: For each Enneagram type, there is a corresponding virtue that represents the highest potential of that type. These virtues counterbalance the type's associated passion.
  • Integration and Growth: By consciously developing and embodying their corresponding virtue, individuals can move towards a state of integration. Integration represents a higher level of self-awareness and well-being.
  • Balancing Passions: The virtues serve as antidotes to the passions, helping individuals transcend their habitual emotional and psychological struggles.
  • Spiritual and Moral Growth: The Enneagram of Virtues aligns with the spiritual and moral dimensions of personal development, encouraging individuals to aspire to their best selves.
  • Integration with Personality Types: The Enneagram of Virtues is often used in conjunction with the Enneagram of Personality to provide a more holistic approach to self-improvement.

Contemporary Applications of the Enneagram

The Enneagram's versatility extends to various contemporary applications, where it serves as a valuable tool for personal development, business leadership, and even hiring and recruiting. Let's explore these modern uses:

Enneagram in Personal Development

The Enneagram continues to be a powerful resource for personal growth and self-awareness. Its applications in personal development include:

  • Self-Discovery: The Enneagram helps individuals understand their core motivations, fears, and desires, fostering self-discovery and self-acceptance.
  • Emotional Intelligence: By recognizing their own emotional patterns and those of others, individuals can enhance their emotional intelligence and improve relationships.
  • Conflict Resolution: Understanding the Enneagram types of others can lead to more effective conflict resolution and communication.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Some practitioners use the Enneagram as a framework for mindfulness and meditation practices, promoting self-awareness and spiritual growth.

Enneagram in Business and Leadership

In the business world, the Enneagram has gained recognition as a valuable tool for leadership development and team dynamics:

  • Leadership Styles: Leaders can use the Enneagram to gain insights into their leadership styles, strengths, and areas for growth.
  • Team Building: Understanding team members' Enneagram types can enhance teamwork, communication, and collaboration within organizations.
  • Conflict Management: Leaders equipped with Enneagram knowledge can navigate workplace conflicts more effectively by addressing the underlying motivations of team members.
  • Strategic Planning: Some businesses incorporate the Enneagram into strategic planning processes to align their goals and values with their leadership and organizational culture.

Enneagram in Hiring and Recruiting

The Enneagram has also found its way into the realm of hiring and recruiting, where it can provide valuable insights into candidates' potential:

  • Assessment Tools: Some organizations use Enneagram-based assessment tools to gain a deeper understanding of candidates' personalities, work styles, and potential fit within the company culture.
  • Team Dynamics: Employers consider Enneagram types when building diverse and complementary teams, aiming for a balanced mix of strengths and skills.
  • Employee Development: Beyond hiring, the Enneagram can inform employee development and training programs, helping individuals reach their full potential within their roles.
  • Conflict Prevention: By understanding potential conflicts that may arise based on Enneagram types, organizations can proactively address and prevent issues in the workplace.

The contemporary applications of the Enneagram highlight its adaptability and relevance in a wide range of contexts. Whether used for personal growth, leadership development, or talent acquisition, the Enneagram continues to offer valuable insights into the complexities of human nature and behavior.


The Enneagram is a remarkable system that offers profound insights into the complexities of human personality. From its ancient origins to its modern-day applications, the Enneagram has evolved to become a valuable tool for personal growth, understanding others, and fostering meaningful connections.

As you explore the Enneagram, remember that it is not just a static framework; it's a dynamic journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. By embracing its wisdom and applying it to your life, you can enhance your relationships, navigate challenges with grace, and strive towards becoming the best version of yourself. The Enneagram invites you to embark on a lifelong adventure of growth, compassion, and authenticity, enriching both your inner world and the world around you.