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Enneagram Origins: A separate history for the symbol and types

There are many speculations surrounding the origins of the Enneagram but what is the known history?

The origins or history of the Enneagram symbol begins with G.I. Gurdjieff around 1916 but he didn't use it with personality types. The personality types evolved during the 1970s by way of Claudio Naranjo's interpretation of Oscar Ichazo's types.

A lot of the stories and speculations surrounding the Enneagram generally have to do with two things: 1) drawing parallels between the Enneagram and other traditions and teachings, and 2) trying to figure out where Gurdjieff got the symbol and Ichazo got the types.

The symbol and the types have different histories

Often you might read or hear that the Enneagram personality types are an ancient system. There is just no record of that. There is record of Gurdjieff introducing and using the symbol in his Fourth Way school during the first half of the 20th century. There is also record of Oscar Ichazo associating ego-types with the nine numbers of the symbol in the 1960s and Claudio Naranjo expanding upon that in the 1970s to create the Enneagram personality types as we know them today, or as Naranjo called them "enneatypes."

As such, the symbol was not originally used to identify nine personality types. It wasn't until the latter half of the 20th century that the personality types we know today became associated with the Enneagram symbol.

Promoting the Enneagram types as ancient

Describing the Enneagram personality types as coming from an ancient source might be appealing to someone trying to promote the system because it not only adds credibility to the system but also justifies not having to explain the reasoning behind the types being placed upon the symbol as they are. You can listen to Claudio Naranjo's explanation in this video clip.

That doesn't mean that everyone was simply making it up in order to promote the Enneagram material. Many people were probably just repeating what they learned from someone else or they were simply trying to find similarities to other traditions and teachings.

Either way, it's NOT an ancient system. It's more accurate to describe it as possibly having ancient influences where some elements that were incorporated into the Enneagram personality types can be seen in ancient sources. However, that just means that Ichazo and Naranjo may have drawn from ancient sources, along with modern ones, to flesh out the system they were creating.

Speculation about the origins

Gurdjieff is associated with the introduction of the Enneagram symbol or diagram to the world. Some people go further in an attempt to associate Gurdjieff's teachings with the Enneagram personality types. While analogies between the personality types and Gurdjieff's teachings can be useful if someone wants to go down that path, often people mistakenly assume they have a tighter connection than they really do.

Gurdjieff purportedly learned of the Enneagram symbol from the Sufis. This leads some people to not only call the Enneagram a Sufi symbol but to associate the personality types with Sufi teachings. Again, the personality types have a different history than the symbol so the Sufis having something to do with the symbol doesn't mean they had anything to do with the types.

The origins of the personality types can be traced back as far as Oscar Ichazo. Where Ichazo got the types from is mostly speculation. The virtues and passions find similarities with early Christianity, specifically Evagrius and the evolution of the deadly sins. Some have claimed that elements of the types were influenced by Gurdjieff's teachings, which Ichazo flatly denied. There have also been comparisons to the Kabbalistic tree of life. It seems though that Ichazo simply drew from the many traditions he explored and created something unique from that.

The pages below explore elements of the known origins of the Enneagram symbol and types based on the teachings of Gurdjieff, Ichazo, and Naranjo.

Enneagram Guide

This page is part of the Enneagram Guide available on this website. For more information about any particular Enneagram type or the many concepts and origins/history of the Enneagram types visit the Enneagram Guide main page.