Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Is The Enneagram?

by Marcia Montenegro, Christian Answers for the New Age
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." Colossians 2:8-10 (NASB)
What is your number? the Enneagram asks. What is the Enneagram? you may ask back. For those who aren't aware of this fast-growing phenomenon, the Enneagram is a diagram depicting numbers one through nine, with lines connecting each number to two other numbers, and is promoted by its adherents as a tool to use for personality analysis. But the Enneagram, despite being endorsed as an aid for psychological assessment, actually has its roots in the occult, as this article will show. More disturbing than that, in recent years the Enneagram - along with so many other occultic practices - has crept into the Christian church. This is even more startling than seeing it used in the secular world. Not only is it being used and promoted by some Christians, but it is even being defended as a tool based on biblical principles.

 A Little Background on the Enneagram 

The Enneagram was promoted by mystic George Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) and by his followers, P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947) and Oscar Ichazo (b. 1931). Gurdjieff claimed to have learned the Enneagram from the Sufis (a mystical spin-off sect of Islam), though many dispute this.

Psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo (b. 1932), a pioneer of New Age related psychological theories, breathed new life into the Enneagram by refining it as a tool of psychological assessment in which a person discovers his number in the chart, and then studies the best and worst traits of that number via the diagram. Each number represents a particular personality type, and is connected to two other numbers, one which supposedly highlights the worst traits, and the other representing the best.

 Meet the Teachers 

Gurdjieff was an Armenian teacher of esoteric spiritual philosophies based on knowledge he allegedly garnered during travels and contacts with secret groups, which are recounted in his book, Meetings with Remarkable Men (in the beginning years of her New Age journey, the writer of this article saw a movie based on this book and was strongly influenced by it). However, these accounts were never verified. Gurdjieff held that man is not aware of true reality and needs an awakening of consciousness. He is widely credited as the first person to make the Enneagram publicly known.

Ouspensky, Gurdjieff's pupil, presented Gurdjieff's ideas as the Fourth Way. Ouspensky's teachings on the Enneagram appear in his books, In Search of the Miraculous and The Fourth Way. Like Gurdjieff, Ouspensky wrote about the Enneagram in terms of the "law of seven" and the "law of three," based on Gurdjieff's view of the esoteric laws by which the cosmos operated.

Oscar Ichazo, heavily involved in psychedelic drugs and shamanism,* asserted that he had "received instructions from a higher entity called Metatron" and that his group "was guided by an interior master."

Naranjo, the psychiatrist who studied with Ichazo in Chile, passed on the Enneagram teachings to Jesuit Bob Ochs, who then brought it into Roman Catholic circles at the New Age Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, where Naranjo taught ("A Closer Look at the Enneagram," Dorothy Garrity Ranaghan [South Bend, Indiana: Greenlawn Press, 1989], 9).

Gurdjieff's legacy lives on today in many facets of the New Age Movement. The New Age has inserted itself so subtly into mainstream culture, including the health field (as well as hospitals), education, psychology, business, and sports, that people no longer perceive it as alien. Indeed, some of these areas have been willing, if not eager, vehicles through which New Age concepts have entered society.

 The Enneagram's True Essence 

In the 1990s, the Enneagram star rose in the secular world, and several business companies began to use it as a tool for personality analysis. At the time, this writer found this odd since the Enneagram, technically speaking, is an occult tool. There is no objective basis for the nine numbers, their categories (such as Reformer, Helper, Achiever, Individualist, etc), or the alleged relationships between the numbers. Most importantly, the Enneagram has as its purpose a spiritual awakening.

The Enneagram purports to lead a person to not only self-understanding, but to an integration of all aspects of the self and, ultimately, to an awakening to the true Self. "Self" is capitalized because the Self is considered by the original (and most contemporary) Enneagram teachers to be divine. The nine numbers most likely originate with Ichazo's belief in the "nine divine forms" of Self, a Self which supposedly has been subverted by ego distortions. There are also the "triads," which is how "your" number is related both positively and negatively through two other numbers. The philosophy for this is directly derived from the esoteric values of Sacred Geometry and from Gnostic views of the self as sacred and pure in essence.

The website for The Enneagram Institute openly refers to concepts from Gurdjieff and company, such as "the Work" and "inner work," to refer to mystical work on the inner self. This "Work," as expressed by Ichazo, involves transcending one's ego in order to find one's "Essence." This is fundamental in Gnostic-based, Eastern, and New Age views.

In this paradigm, one's true self is divine and perfect, but through confusion from wrong beliefs and misperceptions, one has identified with the ego, which is the false self. Thus, there is the "true Self" versus the "false self," a concept familiar to anyone who has studied Eastern religions or New Age teachings. The Enneagram Institute claims that the Enneagram will uncover the wrong view of self and lead one to realize the true Self and thus "live in Essence;" that is, to live fully in the reality of the true divine Self.

The Enneagram Institute itself admits that "the philosophy behind the Enneagram contains components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy (particularly Socrates, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists)."

The reference to Christianity undoubtedly refers to what is sometimes called "mystical" or "esoteric Christianity." This type of Christianity was often claimed by Gurdjieff and other forerunners of the New Age, and in actuality is a Gnostic (neo-Platonic) distortion of Christianity, not authentic historic Christianity. Gurdjieff, his predecessors in Theosophy,** and those who followed the various offshoots of Theosophy and related groups usually referred to themselves as Christians and believed they had discovered the "true" Christianity. Many today who follow New Age and other arcane philosophies will claim to be mystical or esoteric Christians.

The fact that the origin of the Enneagram is spiritual, that its purpose is spiritual, and that it was passed down through teachers of cryptic spiritualities, should clearly indicate that its validity as any sort of tool to understand self or truth is questionable at best.

 The Enneagram's Penetration into the Church 

As mentioned previously, the Enneagram has crept into the Christian church in recent years. This is even more disturbing than seeing it taught in the secular world, where one might naturally expect it to be. But not only is the Enneagram being used and promoted by some Christians, it is also being defended as a tool based on biblical principles.

One Christian, Alice Fryling, who promotes and teaches the Enneagram, admits that the roots of the Enneagram and most of the material on it is not Christian, yet she advises people to do a lot of reading "about the Enneagram paradigm" (page 5) to discover their type. She considers the Enneagram to be a "very deep and complex system." This is hardly a recommendation since this describes all occult and New Age systems. Indeed, it is the complexity of such spiritualities that often makes them seductive.

Fryling also claims that the Enneagram can "lead us to a self-awareness that brings us to our knees before the God of grace" (page 2). However, from a Christian standpoint, it is only God's word that gives true self-awareness -- the awareness of man's essential sin nature and need for redemption, as well as convicting and shaping a Christian believer (credit for this point goes to Viola Larson of Naming the Grace Blogspot). It is God's word and the Holy Spirit that convict, teach, and correct man through God's truth (Psalm 119; John 16:8; James 2:9; 2 Timothy 3:16).

It should be noted that Fryling approvingly refers to Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who runs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At his conferences, Rohr promotes not only the Enneagram, but panentheism (God is in everything, i.e., the earth as God's "body"), Buddhism, and New Ager Marianne Williamson.  Fryling's apparent admiration of Rohr is seriously unsettling.

Another well-known Christian advocate of the Enneagram, Suzanne Stabile, promotes Richard Rohr and has taught the Enneagram at his Conferences. She describes the Enneagram as "primarily a spiritual tool."

 The Heretical Monk 

Fryling asserts that Christian origins of the Enneagram go back to a 4th century "desert monk," Evagrius Ponticus, who wrote on "life patterns" discovered by the "ancient spiritual teachers" (non-Christians) who originated the Enneagram and passed it on via "oral tradition." However, she gives no historical references or explanation for the origin or validity of these "life patterns." One must wonder if these so-called "life patterns" are the occult paradigms derived from Sufis or other similar groups referred to by Gurdjieff. The "ancient spiritual teachers" are pagan, not Christian.

Furthermore, Ponticus was influenced and inspired by the esoteric philosophy of Neo-Platonism, a deadly mixture of Gnosticism and Christianity. Ponticus was also a student of the heretical teachings of Origen of Alexandria. Ponticus himself was later condemned for his teachings in 400 and 533.

Ponticus held that Jesus was not the incarnated Son of God, but rather a sinless "intellect" who assumed a body to show humanity the way back to its "original union" with God. This is a Gnostic teaching. Through Ponticus, these false teachings spread to monastic leaders and theologians (http://www.kalvesmaki.com/evagpont/ ; http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm; http://www.theandros.com/evagrius.html; http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/routes.htm).

It is mystifying as to why Fryling would use Ponticus as a Christian rationale for the Enneagram. It seems that referencing this monk in a positive way would be an embarrassment to any Christian, and, if anything, it gives evidence for the non-Christian nature of the Enneagram.

 Sacred Geometry and Physics 

The reason given by the Enneagram Institute for the nine types is a Gnostic idea of the "nine divine forms," and a presumption that man's natural essence is perfect and in union with Divinity.

Advocates of the Enneagram point to the geometric proportions in the diagram that illustrate the relationship of the numbers to each other as support for their view that there is a special meaning and purpose to the diagram. This is sacred geometry, an occult belief that shapes, patterns, or certain proportions have special inner meaning. Sacred geometry is central to Feng Shui as well as being found in a number of other occult arts.

Sacred Geometry most closely relates to occult divination, which in this case is interpreting hidden meaning in shapes or patterns.*** Divination is the belief that an image, number, or pattern conceals a hidden meaning or message and, if properly interpreted, provides information or guidance outside any objective support for this interpretation. The fact that there are recurring geometric shapes and patterns in the natural world actually reveals that there is an Intelligence as the source of creation -- the Creator God who by His power created the world from nothing. Geometric patterns are evidence for God, not harbingers of hidden messages that must be divined.

There is no objective basis for dividing personality types into nine types. Astrology has twelve personality distinctions. Why nine? Why not twelve, seven, or five? Re-tooling occult arts with psychology for contemporary times is an ongoing process to gain credibility (and possibly to market new products and practices). Mixing in a so-called psychological assessment does not validate either the tool -- whether it be astrology or the Enneagram -- or the psychological analysis itself. Psychology is rife with competing theories; one can hardly claim any objective basis for a particular psychological approach or analysis of personality.

The interview with Fryling cited above offers a list of books on the Enneagram, including The Enneagram in Love and Work by Helen Palmer, an influential proponent in the modern use of the Enneagram. Palmer is also a psychic. On her website, she calls herself "an internationally recognized teacher of intuition and psychology." The website states that Palmer is "a teacher of intuition, psychology and a point of contact between them, the Enneagram, a matrix of personality structures that recognizes nine observable points of view." Whenever someone is described as an "intuitive" or a "teacher of intuition," you can be sure the person is a psychic (even though the person may reject this term), and is also likely a follower of New Age and/or occult philosophies.

Palmer's online course, "Using the Enneagram In Psychological Assessment and Practice," has been approved by the American Psychological Association, and taking the course earns the graduate and doctoral student 15 hours or credits of Continuing Education credit.

Credit is offered despite the fact that the course's page openly states that one of the objectives is for the student to "understand the spiritual significance of the Enneagram." Though not surprising, it is a sad commentary on our society that the theories and advice of a psychic are taken seriously by psychologists. It only further confirms the infiltration of New Age philosophy into the mainstream.


As a former professional astrologer, one objection this writer has for finding "one's type," is that our nature is such that we too easily revel in a label that we can use as an identity, and then continue to view ourselves through that filter. A Christian should strive to view himself through God's word; man-based categories detract from and may blur or negate that perspective.

Focusing on the self easily leads to self-absorption. It is fine to know one's strengths and weaknesses, but the Enneagram is not needed for this, especially because 1) there is no objective basis for the Enneagram, and 2) the Enneagram claims to offer solutions via an "awakening" to the "True Self." Using the Enneagram to identify one's type too easily becomes a pathway to its prescribed solution.

Indeed, the Enneagram claims to be "a map of wholeness" and "a tool and guide for exploring the depths of the human soul" that leads us "toward a deeper realization of our True Nature," the "True Nature" being, of course, a divine "Essence."

According to Palmer (the psychic), "The ultimate vocation of the Enneagram is to awaken the 'Inner Observer' in service to psychological wholeness, authentic spirituality and ultimately compassion for ourselves and each other." In contrast, Christians are being made whole and complete in Christ (Philippians 1:6; Colossians 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:17) through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

 Occult Initiation 

A simple investigation into the Enneagram reveals that its theories of personality are based on esoteric teachings and an occult worldview. The clear origin and purpose of the Enneagram is to initiate a Gnostic spiritual awakening to one's alleged true divine Self, which is in itself an occult initiation. This is the claim and goal of virtually all occult and New Age teachings. The purpose of such initiation is a shift in consciousness, a change in the way one views reality -- God, the world, others, and self.

Occult initiation can be found in many non-Christian systems, desired or not. In Yoga and certain forms of meditation, it is the awakening of the Kundalini, the alleged serpent-like power at the base of the spine; in Reiki, the teacher "awakens" or "activates" the purported healing energy within the student; in Eastern meditation, it involves being given a mantra (a word or phrase to be repeated in meditation); Eastern gurus give their followers shaktipat, which supposedly confers grace and arouses the Kundalini; and the altered states of Eastern and New Age based meditations will certainly lead to occult awakening.

Occult initiations also occur spontaneously -- and unbidden -- if the person is involved in Eastern, New Age, or occult practices. An occult initiation may culminate in meeting one's "spirit guide," a disembodied being who is supposedly one's spiritual teacher. ****

The Gnostic initiation or awakening is the occult counterfeit of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His regeneration of the believer upon faith in Christ. This regeneration, called by Jesus being "born from above" (John 3:3; see also 2 Corinthians 5:17), is supernatural, life-giving, and from God. Gnostic or occult awakening is the kiss of death. Though it appears to open a door onto a shining vista, its light is artificial and it brings the person only into bondage. The true light is Jesus Christ: "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." (John 12:46, KJV).


*Shamanism is primarily healing via contact with and aid from spirit beings; incantations and rituals are used to concoct remedies. For sources on Ichazo and Metatron, see Craig Branch, "Profile of The Enneagram," Watchman Fellowship; see also, John C. Lilly and Joseph E. Hart, "The Arica Training," in Transpersonal Psychologies, ed. Charles T. Hart (Harper & Row, 1975, p. 342), from footnote 16 in Dorothy Garrity Ranaghan, "A Closer Look at the Enneagram," (South Bend, IN: Greenlawn Press, 1975), p. 9.

** The Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875 by Madame Helena Blavatsky, includes Hindu-based beliefs combined with a belief that humanity is guided by disembodied, enlightened "Masters" and other esoteric teachings whose messages can only be interpreted by a few. Theosophy greatly influenced early thinkers of the New Age movement. For the fascinating story of Theosophy, see Peter Washington's Madame Blavatsky's Baboon (Schocken, 1996, paperback edition)

***Divination is also attributing hidden meaning to images such as with Tarot cards; to numbers, as in numerology, also called arithmancy; or to patterns in the natural world, as in astrology or palmistry; as well as seeking information via occult supernatural means or sources .

****The writer of this article had spirit guides, the first one being introduced via a guided meditation.

 Sources & Links to More Information 

Excellent Christian analysis of the Enneagram 

Donald Miller, Enneagram and Who "Feels" Closer to God

Christian response from Viola Larson to the use of the Enneagram in the church (see also Larson's responses to comments below the article)

Christian resource with more information on Ichazo and Naranjo

A brief Christian evaluation

Assessment and critique from a Roman Catholic viewpoint

Excellent booklet with overview of the Enneagram and why it is incompatible with Christianity:
"A Closer Look at the Enneagram," Dorothy Garrity Ranaghan (South Bend, Indiana: Greenlawn Press, 1989).

Excellent and entertaining resource on the history, beliefs, and personalities of the influential Theosophical Society, including Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and others: Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, Peter Washington (Schocken, 1996).

 Pro-Enneagram Links 

History of the modern Enneagram's use

From the website of The Enneagram Institute, a page revealing the occult spirituality behind the Enneagram

 Other Links 

Video of guru giving shaktipat (an occult initiation)