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[Draft from the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices]


In recent years, a number of Catholics in the United States and in other countries have been experimenting with the enneagram and ideas derived from enneagram teaching as an aid not only for personal development, but also for spiritual development. Use of the enneagram at workshops, study groups, and retreat centers, however, has raised questions about the appropriateness of the enneagram as a means of Christian spiritual growth, mainly because of its association with esoteric and non-Christian belief systems. The non-Christian origins of the enneagram and enneagram teaching do not of themselves preclude the possibility that Christians might find in it truths that can be appropriated within a Christian world-view.1 Such origins, however, do make it imperative that those attempting such an adaptation exercise great care not to compromise the integrity of Catholic belief.

Furthermore, aside from the question of possible conflicts with Christian doctrine, there is also the more practical question of the accuracy of enneagram teaching from the perspective of modern science. While the enneagram system shares little with traditional Christian doctrine or spirituality, it also shares little with the methods and criteria of modern science. The absence of scientific substantiation of the enneagram does not of itself mean that there is no truth to be found in the enneagram, but it does serve as an important caution against relying on enneagram teachings until such time as such substantiation is provided. The burden of proof is on proponents of the enneagram to furnish scientific evidence for their claims.

With the aim of aiding bishops in their evaluation of the use of enneagram books and workshop in their dioceses, the Committee on Doctrine has decided to produce a brief report on the origins of the enneagram in order to help identify aspects of the intersection between enneagram doctrine and Catholic belief that warrant particular scrutiny and are potential areas of concern. Such a historical overview seems particularly appropriate since the origins of the enneagram are not widely known and are even unknown to some of those who teach the enneagram.


To summarize very briefly, the enneagram symbol itself is a circle along whose circumference appear nine equally spaced points marked by the numerals 1 through 9 in succession.2 There are lines that connect some of the points on the circumference of the circle, an arrangement based on what are taken to be the mystical and cosmological properties of the numbers three and seven. First, one divided by seven yields. 142857142857 …, with the sequence 142857 repeating infinitely (in fact, any whole number divided by seven will yield a decimal in which the same sequence of numbers repeats). On the diagram, a line connects the point representing one with that representing four, an arrow indicating the direction. Similarly, a line connects the point representing four to that representing two, and so on. In this way, six of the nine points are connected by lines, the multiples of three being excepted, since the division of one by seven yields no multiples of three. Second, one divided by three also yields an infinitely repeating decimal (.333333…). On the diagram, another set of lines connects all the multiples of three, the three with the nine, the nine with the six, and the six with the three.

Most enneagram teachers use the nine points on the enneagram to represent nine personality types that, according to enneagram teaching, apply to all people. The nine types fall into three groups of three, associated with the head, the heart, and the “gut.” Every person inevitably embodies one of these nine personality types as soon as they choose a basic mode of responding to the world at about the age of four. Enneagram teachers claim that by use of the enneagram one can explain why people tend to act in particular ways and can prescribe goals for adjustment and development of one’s own personality. The first step is to determine one’s personality type from among the nine possibilities. Once one’s personality type is determined, they teach that one should strive to attain the characteristics of the personality type indicated by following the diagram in the prescribed manner. One will make progress by moving against the direction of the arrows. For example, a personality of type one should try to become like a seven, not a four. According to enneagram teaching, all people can learn to achieve greater personal balance and integrity by following the enneagram.


The earliest appearance of the enneagram that has been historically documented is in the teachings of Georges I. Gurdjieff (ca. 1870-1949), which are recorded in the books of his student Piotr D. Ouspensky. The first documented correlation of the nine points on the enneagram to nine personality types is in the teaching of Oscar Ichazo (b.1931). While Gurdjieff considered the enneagram to contain the key to knowledge of all that is in the cosmos, it was Ichazo in the 1960s who first developed a theory of nine personality types corresponding to the nine points of the enneagram.

Most enneagram teachers, however, assert that it is more ancient than Gurdjieff or Ichazo, though they do not agree on its precise origins and offer no solid historical evidence for their various theories. Gurdjieff gave his students to believe that knowledge of the enneagram has been passed down in secret within circles devoted to esoteric wisdom, perhaps for thousands of years, though he evidently never divulged from which group he supposedly learned it. Many enneagram teachers believe that he learned the enneagram from Sufi mystics, though in saying this they do not necessarily mean to deny that the enneagram could be older, since the Sufis themselves are reputed to pass down forms of wisdom that are older than their own school. Others assert that the enneagram has its origins in the numerological speculations of the Pythagoreans or the ancient wisdom of the Chaldeans.

Again, however, enneagram proponents have not produced any solid historical evidence to substantiate any of these claims. Although they acknowledge this they argue that the lack of concrete evidence is due to the fact that the enneagram was esoteric doctrine, never made public, but passed down in secret exclusively by oral tradition to select pupils.3 With regard to the possible preexistence of the enneagram before the teachings of Gurdjieff, the only information that historical research currently affords is the fact that the decimal point and the zero were not used by mathematicians until about the fourteenth century. Given that the numerology on which the enneagram is based depends on the decimal point, it is difficult to place the origin of the enneagram before that date.4

A) The Teaching of Georges I. Gurdjieff

Georges I. Gurdjieff was a Greek-American who was born around 1870 in what is now the Republic of Georgia. Not satisfied with the Orthodox faith in which he had been brought up, as a young man he became fascinated with various kinds of supernatural phenomena, including communicating the dead, magic, fortune-telling, and secret societies possessing great knowledge.5 He reports that this search for esoteric knowledge led him to study various religions and systems of ancient wisdom and to travel through many lands in search of it: central Asia, Tibet, India, and Egypt, including the cities of Mecca, Medina, and Bokhara (Uzbekistan), a center of Islamic mystical schools. He claims that at one point in his travels he gained admittance to a hidden monastery of a secret society that was founded in Babylon about 2500 B.C., the Sarmoung Brotherhood (or “Samouni Brotherhood”).6 According to the story related by Gurdjieff, he and a companion were led blindfolded on a twelve-day journey from Bokhara to the secret Sarmoung monastery, where he learned esoteric knowledge, including sacred dancing.7 Gurdjieff developed his own synthesis of ideas drawn from the various sources he encountered in his travels and in his studies and began teaching his doctrines in Russia and Western Europe, by 1922 eventually settling in Paris, where he taught “esoteric Christianity.”8

Although he did not include the enneagram in any of his published writings, Gurdjieff’s students report that he taught that the enneagram is a symbol of the cosmos, 9 a “universal symbol,”10 and thus a source of knowledge about the cosmos because of the mathematical laws it represents.

According to Gurdjieff, the Law of Three11 and the Law of Seven12 are at the basis of everything in the cosmos. The desire of the cosmos to return to the unity of the Absolute is represented by the division of one by three and by seven, thus yielding the repeating decimals that are at the basis of the enneagram.13 By relating the two fundamental laws of the Three and of the Seven, the enneagram represents the key to all knowledge.14 Gurdjieff claimed:

All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a man is able to put into the enneagram does he actually know, that is, understand. What he cannot put into the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram.15

Gurdjieff did not relate the points on the enneagram to personality types, though he did teach that there are three basic personality dispositions. In his view, the human persona has three “brains” or hierarchically ordered centers of function: the intellectual, the emotional and the moving or instinctual -- a teaching evidently borrowed from Sufism.16 According to Gurdjieff, one of these three “brains” always predominates in each person, so that there are three personality types. This threefold classification has been retained by current enneagram teachers who use the nine personality-type system developed by Ichazo, for they see the nine types as falling into three groups of three.17

Another aspect of Gurdjieff’s teaching that continues in later enneagram teaching is the idea that each person is born with an “essence,” but then as a young child, in the race of various environmental pressures, develops a “personality,” a host of habitual ways of thinking and acting that are often not in harmony with innate dispositions of one’s “essence.”

A small child has no personality as yet. He is what he really is. He is essence. His desires, tastes, likes, dislikes, express his being such as it is. But as soon as so-called “education” begins, personality begins to grow. Personality is created partly by the intentional influences of other people, that is, by “education,” and partly by involuntary imitation of them by the child itself. In the creation of personality a great part is also played by “resistance” to people around him and by attempts to conceal from them something that is “his own” or “real.”18

It must thus be the goal of each person to develop a harmonious relationship between one’s personality and one’s essence and to escape from the limitations imposed by one’s personality.

A man’s real I, his individuality, can grow only from his essence. It can be said that a man’s individuality is his essence, grown up, mature. But in order to enable essence to grow up, it is first of all necessary to weaken the constant pressure of personality upon it, because the obstacles to the growth of essence are contained in personality…Personality must become passive and science must become active.19

B) Oschar Ichazo and the Enneagram Theory of Personality Types

While he had been brought up as a Catholic, Oscar Ichazo began his exploration of esoteric knowledge as a teenager in the 1940s and at the age of nineteen participated in a small group that met in Buenos Aires “to share their knowledge of various esoteric consciousness-altering techniques,” including Zen, Sufism, the Kabbalah, and the teachings of Gurdjieff.20 In the 1950s, with some help from this group, he began to travel in the East, Hong Kong, India, and Tibet, studying martial arts, the higher yogas, Buddhism, Confucianism, alchemy, and I Ching.21 He returned to his native Bolivia in 1960 and began to teach a study group. In 1964, he went to his father’s house to spend a year in solitude.22 At one point, he went into a “divine coma” or a “state of ecstasy” for seven days, from which he awoke with the conviction that he should teach what he had learned.23 Later he began teaching at the Institute for Applied Psychology in Santiago, Chile, but soon decided to establish an institute in the secluded setting of the remote town of Arica. In 1970, a group of about fifty Americans came to Chile to study for about nine months at Arica with Ichazo. After this, Ichazo decided to establish Arica Institutes in various cities in North America and moved his headquarters to New York.

Ichazo’s contribution to enneagram doctrine was the correlation of the nine points of the enneagram to nine basic personality types. Gurdjieff did not use the enneagram in this way, nor do those who continue teaching in his tradition. Most but not all enneagram teaching in the United States relies on Ichazo’s theory of nine personality types which he developed sometime in the 1950s and ‘60s. According to Ichazo, each person is born as pure essence, but in order to survive in the world is forced to develop a personality and at some time between the ages of four and six ends up choosing one of nine basic patterns of thinking, called a “fixation,” which is also connected with a pattern of acting, called a “trap.”24 This constructed ego is thus a source of unhappiness. In order to return to one’s essence one must compensate for one’s ego fixation by cultivating the pattern of thinking and acting opposite and complementary to one’s ego by means of special exercises, such as meditation or the mystic hand positions employed by Buddhists (mudras).25 Ichazo applies the numerological basis of the enneagram diagram to the understanding of the interrelationships among the various personality types, for example, using the directions of the arrows to prescribe directions for personality development. One should move along enneagram in the direction opposite to that of the arrows. For instance, the goal of a type one personality should be to become more like a type seven (and not like a type four).

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,”26 or Metatron, the prince of the archangels (the accounts vary).27 The training offered at Ichazo’s Arica Institute includes preparation for and means of contacting various higher beings, such as Metatron, with whom Ichazo himself has been in contact.28 One of the aims of training offered at Ichazo’s Arica Institute is to put the advanced student into contact with an interior master, the “Green Qu’Tub,” which is expected to occur at some point in their development.29

It is not clear to what extent Ichazo claims to have learned the enneagram directly through converse with a higher spirit and independently from contact with Gurdjieff and his disciples or Sufism. He is insistent on the originality of his enneagram theory30 and claims that he had learned the meaning of the enneagram before reading Gudjieff.31 He claims to have studied Sufism in the same Pamir mountain region of Central Asia where Gurdjieff had claimed to have traveled.32 While it hardly seems plausible that Ichazo did not learn the basics of the enneagram through Gurdjieff’s teaching (especially since Ichazo himself acknowledges that the study group in Buenos Aires to which he had belonged was studying Gurdjieff’s work33), there seems to be little dispute that Ichazo’s particular use of the enneagram in terms of nine personality types does not derive from Gurdjieff.

As for Sufism, Ichazo reports that he saw the enneagram symbol while visiting a Sufi order in Afghanistan, but that the Sufis did not know its deeper meaning and that he was able to explain much more of its meaning than his hosts.34 Ichazo asserted: “I know Sufism extensively -- I’ve practiced traditional zhikr, prayer, meditation -- and I know realized Sufi sheiks. It [the enneagram] is not part of their theoretical framework. They couldn’t care less about the Enneagon [Ichazo’s name for the enneagram].”35 He is dismissive of those who seek to ground the authority of the enneagram in a supposed Sufi origin.

Concretely speaking the enneagram authors start from the point of a “belief,” which they make into a “dogma,” because they accept it irrationally and in full without any analysis or criticism as if it would be a divine truth, unquestionable and final. They appoint an “old Sufi” theory or whatever as their basis to elaborate scientific propositions. The work of the enneagram authors is plainly unscientific and without rational foundation, because it is based on dogmatic formulations.36

C) Claudi Naranjo and the Profusion of Enneagram Teachers

Claudio Naranjo, a psychologist interested in psychopharmacology and the effects of hallucinogenic drugs who was a Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, in 1969 went to Santiago to attend Ichazo’s lectures at the Institute for Applied Psychology. Upon his return, he spread the word about Ichazo through his work at the Esalen Institute, a center for “alternative education,” devoted to merging various philosophies from East and West. Naranjo was among the group of about fifty who came from the United States in 1970 to study under Ichazo, though he was asked to leave after seven months, apparently following personal conflicts with Ichazo. In 1971, he formed his own school, Seekers After Truth, and began teaching his own version of esoteric doctrine, in which the enneagram had a central place. His particular contribution to enneagram teaching appears to be the correlation of insights from Ichazo’s enneagram theory with those of Western psychology. For many years he did not write about the enneagram, though his students such as Helen Palmer would begin the profusion of books and workshops on the enneagram. It was also some of Naranjo’s students, such as Robert Ochs, S.J., who first introduced the enneagram into the Catholic community.


An examination of the origins of enneagram teaching reveals that it does not have credibility as an instrument of scientific psychology and that the philosophical and religious ideas of its creators are out of keeping with basic elements of Christian faith on several points. Consequently, the attempt to adapt the enneagram to Christianity as a tool for personal spiritual development shows little promise of providing substantial benefit to the Christian community.

The most obvious weakness of enneagram teaching is the numerology on which it depends. Enneagram teachers attach great significance to certain numbers, for example, the decimals resulting from the division of one by seven and by three. This numerological theory finds no support, however, in either the modern science of nature or Christian teaching. Because of this, for a Christian to subscribe to such numerology would be to fall into a form of superstition.

The attempt to make use of the enneagram also shares the principal difficulty involved in adapting any non-Christian wisdom, whether psychological, philosophical, or religious, within a Christian framework -- that of making sure that this doctrine does not become the criterion by which Christian beliefs will be judged. The ever-present temptation is to conform Christian belief to the doctrine, as if it were an absolute norm. Unfortunately, at least in the enneagram literature that has been published so far, distortions of Christian belief are common, even in the books that are most popular among Catholics and that are sometimes written by members of religious orders. Even if some of these authors do not appear to be acting out of a deliberate strategy to reinterpret Christianity in a way that is incompatible with traditional Catholic beliefs, their writings nevertheless often distort Christian beliefs in a way that makes them conform to enneagram doctrine.

For example, in enneagram teaching sin is often redefined in terms of the characteristic limitations of a particular personality type. One problem resulting from this redefinition derives from the fact that according to enneagram teaching every person must inevitably choose a personality type as a basic strategy for coping with one’s environment. Since every personality type has its intrinsic limitations, sin becomes something at least in part inevitable. Personal responsibility for sin becomes very difficult to explain in this theory. A second problem is a consequence of the first. If sin is the (inevitable) result of one personality type, then the solution to sin is to be found primarily in compensating for one personality type by following the prescriptions of enneagram teaching. The remedy for sin becomes first of all a matter of greater knowledge rather than reform of the will. According to Christian teaching, sin is indeed unhealthy behavior and can be combated by an improved understanding, but it is at its root a moral problem, so that repentance before God and one’s neighbor must be the fundamental response. Enneagram teaching thus obscures the Christian understanding of sin.

An important factor contributing to confusion about Christian teaching in books on the enneagram is the fact that beginning with Gurdjieff and Ichazo what enneagram proponents have taught has always been a syncretistic mixture of elements from various sources, mostly types of esoteric knowledge, such as Sufi mysticism, the Kabbalah, and astrology,37 though more recently it has also been correlated with the psychology of Jung, Freud, and others. Thus when contemporary enneagram teachers attempt to relate the enneagram to Christianity and Christian ideas are added to the mixture, a clear sense of the fundamental priority of Christian beliefs is easily lost.

In conclusion, those who are looking for an aid for personal and psychological development should be aware that enneagram teaching lacks a scientific foundation for its assertion and that the enneagram is of questionable value as a scientific tool for the understanding of human psychology. Moreover, Christians who are looking for an aid for spiritual growth should be aware that the enneagram has its origins in a non-Christian worldview and remains connected to a complex of philosophical and religious ideas that do not accord with Christian belief.

1 For example, with regard to prayer, see the document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” (Origins, vol.19, no.30[Dec.28, 1989]): “The majority of the great religions which have sought union with God in prayer have also pointed out ways to achieve it. Just as ‘the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions’ [Nostra Aetate 2], neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements, are never obscured” (no. 16.).

2 For an overview, see John G. Bennett, Enneagram Studies (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1983), 2-3.

3 For example, see P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Routledge, and Kegan Paul, 1950), 294. Neither Gurdjieff nor Ichazo put their enneagram teachings into writing, nor did Ichazo’s student Claudio Naranjo (until 1990, after the first spate of enneagram books appeared). In the 1980s, some of Naranjo’s students began publishing books on the enneagram (Naranjo claims that this was in violation of an agreement that he had with them).

4 John G. Bennett, a student of Gurdjieff, uses this fact as the basis for his argument that the enneagram must have been the discovery of fifteenth-century Sufis, who would have had these recent mathematical developments at their disposal and who were deeply involved in numerological speculations. See Bennett, Enneagram Studies, 2, 31.

5 See, for example, Georges I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1963), 37, 59-70, 79-83,87-92.

6 Ibid., 90.

7 Ibid., 147-63. Some of Gurdjieff’s students believe that he learned the enneagram from the Sarmoung (See Kathleen Riordan Speeth and Ira Friedlander, Gurdjieff, Seeker of Truth [New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1980], 113, 116). Others think he learned it from the Naqshbandi, an order of Sufi mystics who are reputed to be bearers of esoteric knowledge (see Bennett, Enneagram Studies, 31).

8 Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 102.

9 Bennet, Enneagram Studies, 47.

10 Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 294.

11 Gurdjieff taught that according to the Law of Three “every action, every phenomenon in all worlds without exception, is the result of a simultaneous action of three forces -- the positive, the negative, and the neutralizing” (as quoted by his student P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 122; cf.77-81,89, 134). See Kathleen Riordan [Speeth], “Gurdjieff,” in Charles T. Tart, ed., Transpersonal Psychologies (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 291.

12 According to Gurdjieff, the Law of Seven or the Law of Octaves consists in “the fact that every process, no matter upon what scale it takes place, is completely determined in its gradual development by the law of the structure of the seven-tone scale….[T]he law of octaves connects all processes of the universe and, to one who knows the scales of the passage and the laws of the structure of the octave, it presents the possibility of an exact cognition of everything and every phenomena in its essential nature and of all its interrelations with phenomena and things connected with it” (quoted by Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 285;cf.122-40). See Kathleen Riordan [Speeth], “Gurdjieff,” 292.

13 Kathleen Riordan [Speeth], “Gurdjieff,” 293.

14 “The enneagram can be used in the study of all processes, since it must be present in all sequences of events” (Ibid.).

15 As quoted by Ouspensky, In Search of the miraculous, 294.

16 Kathleen Riordan [Speeth], “Gurdjieff,” 297-301. Ichazo also taught the same threefold distinction, using the Persian Sufi names Path, Oth, and Kath. See John C. Lilly and Joseph E. Hart, “The Arica Training,” in Tart, ed., Transpersonal Psychologies, 322-40. Both Lilly and Jart studied under Ichazo at the Arica Institute in Chile and became teachers of the enneagram.

17 For example, see Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 25-28; Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B., Enneagram Spirituality: From Compulsion to Contemplation (Notre Dame, Ind.:Ave Maria, 1992) 9-14; William J. Callahan, S.J., The Enneagram for Youth: Counselor’s Manual (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992), 2.

18 As quoted by Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 161. “Essence in man is what is his own. Personality in man is what is ‘not his own.’ ‘Not his own’ means what has come from outside, what he has learned, or reflects, all traces of exterior impressions left in the memory and in the sensations, all words and movements that have been learned, all feelings created by imitation -- all this is ‘not his own,’ all this is personality” (Ibid.). See Kathleen Riordan [Speeth], “Gurdjieff,” 307.

19 As quoted by Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 163.

20 From an interview with Sam Keen, “A Conversation about Ego Destruction with Oscar Ichazo,” that originally appeared in Psychology Today (July, 1973) and was reprinted in Interviews with Oscar Ichazo (New York: Arica Institute Press, 1982), 7-8.

21 Ibid., 8.

22 Ichazo, “I am the Root of a New Tradition,” originally published in The Movement Newspaper (May, 1981) and reprinted in Interviews with Oscar Ichazo, 133-34.

23 “A conversation about Ego Destruction,” 8. Ichazo, “I am the Root of a New Tradition,” 134.

24 “A Conversation about Ego Destruction,” 9. Lilly and Hart, “The Arica Training,” 332-34.

25 Lilly and Hart, “The Arica Training,” 337.

26 “Qu’Tub” (or “Qutb”) is a term used by Sufis to refer to a spiritual master.

27 At one point, Ichazo described this as “a state of divine presence”; see William Patrick Patterson, Taking with the Left Hand; Enneagram Craze, Bookmark People & The Mouravieff ‘Phenomenon (Fairfax, Cal.: Arete Communications, 1998), 25-26; Patterson is a follower of the tradition of Gurdjieff. Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert report that “Oscar Ichazo is trying to claim that the nine points are original to him and were taught him ‘by an Archangel while he was on mescaline’ ” (Discovering the Enneagram,12).

28 Lilly and Hart, “The Arica Training,” 341.

29 Ibid.

30 In fact, in 1990, Ichazo’s Arica Institute sued Helen Palmer for copyright infringement because of her use of enneagram personality type theory in her 1988 book, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. The Arica Institute lost, largely on the grounds that Ichazo claimed to have “discovered” rather than “invented” the enneagram personality types. Such “facts” are not as such subject to copyright protection.

31 Ichazo, “I Am the Root of a New Tradition,” 144.

32 Ibid., 132.

33 “A Conversation about Ego Destruction,” 7-8. See also Lilly and Hart, “The Arica Training,” 331; Patterson, Taking with the Left Hand, 24-25.

34 Ichazo, “I Am the Root of a New Tradition,” 144.

35. Quoted by Patterson, Taking with the Left Hand, 24.

36 Ibid.

37 Ichazo correlates certain personality tendencies with the signs of the Zodiac. See Lilly and Hart, “The Arica Training,” 342-44. Cf. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 366-67.

National Catholic Reporter, posted October 19, 2000 [corrected 10/23/2001]