Enneagram Influences: Differing Traditions and Schools of Thought

Thu Mar 02 2023

a desk of documents on the origins of the Enneagram

The Enneagram's origins are mysterious and there have been many influences on the system.

The Enneagram has its roots in ancient spiritual traditions, dating back to the fourth century AD. It was primarily used as a tool for self-discovery and spiritual growth. The Enneagram consists of a circle with nine equidistant points, each representing a personality type.

Different Schools of Thought

Over the centuries, different schools of thought have contributed to the development of the Enneagram. Each school has its own unique interpretation of the Enneagram and has contributed to its evolution over time.

Sufi Tradition - ~10th-14th Centuries AD

The Sufi tradition is an Islamic mystical tradition that is one of the earliest recorded sources of the Enneagram. Sufi teachings emphasize the importance of self-knowledge and spiritual awakening, and many Sufi masters have used the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery and personal growth. The Enneagram’s nine-pointed symbol is believed to represent the nine qualities of God, and each Enneagram type is seen as a reflection of a specific aspect of the divine. The Sufi tradition’s emphasis on the spiritual significance of the Enneagram has helped to bring a greater depth and richness to the Enneagram as a tool for personal growth and spiritual development. Today, many Enneagram practitioners continue to draw inspiration from the Sufi tradition and its teachings on the Enneagram. Learn more about it here

Gurdjieff Work - Early 20th Century, 1915-1949

George Gurdjieff was a Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher and philosopher who is widely credited with introducing the Enneagram symbol to the Western world. Gurdjieff’s teachings on the Enneagram were based on the idea that human beings are not fully conscious, and that through self-awareness and self-observation, individuals can attain a higher level of consciousness and spiritual awakening. Gurdjieff’s influence on the Enneagram was significant, as he was one of the first to use the symbol as a tool for spiritual growth and self-discovery. Many contemporary Enneagram teachings and systems are based on Gurdjieff’s original ideas.

Oscar Ichazo - Mid 20th Century, 1950s-1960s

Oscar Ichazo a Bolivian-born mystic and philosopher is another key figure in the development of the Enneagram. Ichazo developed his Enneagram teachings through a combination of his studies in various spiritual traditions and his own inner experiences. His approach to the Enneagram focused on the idea that individuals are born with a specific temperament or personality type, which is influenced by their spiritual essence. He went on to create the Arica Institute

Claudio Naranjo - Late 20th Century, 1970s

Claudio Naranjo studied with Ichazo in Chile. “His contribution to the Enneagram successfully joined the insight and methods of a mystical path of transformation with the intellectual power of a Western psychological model”. Naranjo’s work helped to popularize the Enneagram in the Western world and his teachings continue to be a source of inspiration for many Enneagram enthusiasts today. His legacy includes the creation of the Enneagram of Personality, which is one of the most widely used Enneagram systems today.

Outside Influences

Ancient Philosophy - Classical Antiquity, ~428 – 347 BC

The idea of dividing the human psyche into categories or “types” can be traced back to Plato’s “Republic”, where he discusses the concept of tripartite souls divided into rational, spirited, and appetitive categories. The Enneagram’s three centers of intelligence, which divide individuals into thinking, feeling, and instinctual types, can be seen as a modern-day interpretation of Plato’s ideas. SparkNotes provides a comprehensive analysis of Plato’s “Republic” where plato talks about the tripartite souls.

Early Psychology - Late 19th to Early 20th Century, 1890s-1920s

The concept of personality types also has roots in early psychology, such as Freud’s theories of the id, ego, and superego. Freud’s id represents the primitive and instinctual desires of an individual, which can be likened to the Enneagram’s concept of instincts. The ego, on the other hand, is the rational and decision-making aspect of the psyche, which corresponds to the Enneagram’s idea of the head. Finally, the superego represents the moral and ethical aspect of the psyche, which aligns with the Enneagram’s concept of the heart. Additionally, the Enneagram’s centers of intelligence can be linked to Carl Jung’s ideas of thinking, feeling, and sensing types.

More about Freud and Plato here

Why did early psychology develop these ideas further? 🤷

Modern Interpretations of the Enneagram

Today, the Enneagram is widely used as a personality typing system that helps individuals understand themselves and others better. There are several modern interpretations of the Enneagram, each with its own set of personality types and descriptions. While there is no one “right” way to approach the Enneagram, different schools of thought have emerged over time, each with its own unique perspective on the Enneagram and how it can be used.

The Narrative Tradition - Late 20th Century to Present, 1990s-Present

One of the most popular schools of thought when it comes to the Enneagram is the narrative tradition. This approach focuses on storytelling and personal anecdotes, allowing individuals to explore their Enneagram type in a more personal and relatable way. The narrative tradition is often used in Enneagram workshops and retreats, where individuals can learn about their type in a supportive and interactive environment.

The Integrative Tradition - Early 21st Century to Present, 2000s-Present

Another school of thought when it comes to the Enneagram is the integrative tradition. This approach combines elements from various Enneagram schools of thought, allowing individuals to explore the Enneagram in a holistic and comprehensive way. The integrative tradition emphasizes the importance of personal growth and development, using the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery and transformation.

Wrapping Up

The Enneagram is an ancient tool that has evolved over time through the contributions of different schools of thought. Both ancient philosophy and early psychology have contributed to the Enneagram’s evolution. Modern interpretations of the Enneagram, such as the Narrative Tradition, provide insight into the Enneagram’s nine personality types and how they relate to personal growth and relationships. These different schools of thought show that people have been wrestling with these ideas for a long time and there is so much to discover.

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