This is Part 2 of our look at the Enneagram. The use of the Enneagram is being marketed as a tool that Christians can use to classify someones personality. There is a great deal of baggage in the history of the Enneagram. Popular Emerging Church authors/teachers use and promote the Enneagram – some of whom include RUTH HALEY BARTON, RICHARD ROHR…etc. RICHARD ROHR, O.F.M. is a Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church who has written many books and speaks at many conferences throughout the year. Unfortunatly, several of his theological viewpoints are not biblical nor are they historicly Christian. Unfortunately, a growing number of Evangelical Churches are involved using the Enneagram and following after some of these false teachings creeping into the church.
Again, I will look first at my church and denomination. As stated previously, the CHRISTIAN AND MISSIONARY ALLIANCE CHURCH is moving quickly down a path that is seeking to include MYSTICISM and EARLY CHURCH RESOURCES mainly from the early Roman Catholic church. The move in this direction is being driven by several people inside C&MA colleges and seminaries. Professors such as DR. JAMES DANAHER are mixing in mystical practices from Roman Catholic sources including RICHARD ROHR.
=> ANYBODY involved in the C&MA should be very concerned about this direction!
Other outlets to mysticism are even provided by the Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary, DR. RON WALLBORN in areas such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION. These people come highly respected, but the blatent direction they are taking not only strays far from Scripture, but it goes against some of the core beliefs/statements of the C&MA. The impact of introducing mysticism (Roman Catholic & Eastern Mysticism) into a Christian’s walk can be risky that may not initially show up but over time could have the effect of moving people further away from God.
(A.) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND – INTRODUCTION
The history of how the ENNEAGRAM developed involves many different belief systems over many different years. It is difficult to shorten this summary, but it will give you an understanding of the large amount of baggage that is associated with the development of the Enneagram. If you have utilized, plan to utilize or know someone who has utilized the Enneagram, you especially should read this background.
The man credited with bringing the ENNEAGRAM figure to the West is George Ilych Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian from what is now Soviet Georgia. From Gurdjieff’s book – Meetings with Remarkable Men, a sort of autobiography, his family wanted him to study for the Orthodox priesthood, while his own interests were in studying science and technology. Gurdjieff ultimately rejected all of the above because of his fascination with the occult. Astrology, mental telepathy, spiritism and table turning, fortune telling, and demon possession all held his interest as a youth. He did not follow after his priest’s warnings about these things nor did find science to be the source of providing answers to life’s challenges.
Therefore, in his late teens, he set out to pursue these occult “sciences,” traveling throughout central Asia, the Mediterranean basin, Egypt, Tibet, and India. After reading about a special school in an ancient Armenian book, Gurdjieff went looking for the esoteric Sarmouni school, allegedly founded in Babylon around 2500 B.C.
In 1897, while in Afghanistan, Gurdjieff stated that a dervish (a type of Muslim mystic or Sufi) introduced him to an old man of the Sarmouni sect he had been searching for. It is believed that this man arranged for an expedition to take Gurdjieff to the Sarmouni monastery in central Turkestan. He learned their mystical dancing, psychic powers, and the ENNEAGRAM. The Sarmounis used the enneagram as a means of DIVINIATION to foretell future events as well as a tool to represent life processes, such as PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION (hey, they sound like authors associated with the Emerging Church) and they used it as a symbol of the conscious and unconscious states in human beings. He later would use these to form his own school for attaining enlightenment.
Later, Gurdjieff formed a group, the Seekers of Truth, as his companions in the quest for enlightenment and (full) consciousness. It is claimed that they journeyed to Tibet to make contact with the “awakened” inner circle of humanity and to learn the wisdom of the tulkas, the supposedly reincarnated Tibetan lamas (monks). There is more. After a period of time, Curdjieff snuck into Mecca and Medina, the centers of Islam, but failed to find inner truth there. Then he went to Bokhara, where the Bahaudin Naqshbandi band of Sufis lived.7
These Naqshbandi Sufis, also called the Khwajagan or “Masters of Wisdom,” claimed to be the “World Brotherhood,” composed of ALL nationalities and religions, teaching that “ALL were united by God the Truth.” Sounding somewhat similar to GNOSTICISM, the Naqshbandis believed in a legend of an inner circle of humanity who formed a network of highly evolved people wth special knowledge and they supposedly watched over the human race and affected the course of its history. The Naqshbandis believed in additional aspects of this legend including a perpetual spiritual hierarchy headed by the Kutb i Zaman or “Axis of the Age,” a personal spirit receiving direct revelations of the divine purpose. This spirit, it was claimed, would transmit these revelations to humans through other spirits called the Abdal or “Transformed Ones.”8 Gurdjieff and his followers believed that these spirits, “demiurgic essences” from a higher level than man, were responsible for maintaining planetary harmony and evolution.
The Naqshbandis also taught Gnostic doctrines. Their understanding of faith was that it arose “from understanding” which is “the essence obtained from information intentionally learned and from all kinds of experiences personally experienced.” Only understanding can lead on to God and only experience and information allow one to acquire a soul.11 This is GNOSTICISM – a clear departure from Christianity. In Christianity, it is God who comes to humans, offering to dwell in our hearts through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not reserved for only those who are the so-called “enlightened ones”. Christianity is available to the poor and the rich, the brilliant or the retarded,…etc. Salvation by faith is a gift from God.
In Paris (and the New York branch of the Institute, which opened in 1924), he taught “esoteric Christianity” along with a program to help students reach the highest levels of consciousness. His Sufi/Gnostic-inspired doctrine included the belief that everyone has three personal centers: the mental, located in the head (path), the emotional, located in the heart (oth), and the physical, located in the belly (kath). One prime cause for people being spiritually “asleep” or “mechanical” was the imbalance of these three centers within each person. His Sufi dances and other exercises were designed to restore balance to these three centers and move the person closer to an alert spiritual state.
Gurdjieff also taught that everyone has an essence and a personality. The essence is “the material of which the universe is made. Essence is divine — the particle of god in our subconscious called Conscience.”13 The personality is a mask of compulsive behavior which covers the essence. Though everyone is born in essence, by age of three or four, they choose a personality ego style. One can’t return easily to the essence, but with slow, deliberate, conscious work one can arrive at it again.14 Note that Gurdjieff’s doctrine of “essence” represents PANTHEISM ( believe that everything is God). Enneagram teachers who recommend that students return to this essence rarely understand what Gurdjieff meant, but his words make it clear that he did not have a Christian sense of God. This is one reason he claimed to teach “esoteric Christianity”; orthodox Christianity proclaims we are creatures of God, not divine particles.
Gurdjieff used the enneagram in his teachings as seen by its frequent appearance in his disciples’ books (though not in his own). The Sufis had used the enneagram for NUMEROLOGICAL DIVINATION. (Numerology is an occult “science” which holds that the characteristics of people and virtually everything in the universe are determined by numbers, and that such characteristics can be divined if the people or things’ individual numbers can be identified [e.g., from their names or dates of birth] and the meaning of those numbers can be determined.) The Sufis searched for the mystical meanings of the decimals .3333…, .6666…, and .9999… (based on dividing the number one by three), and of the decimal .142857… (based on dividing the number one by seven and containing no multiples of three).15 The multiples of three correspond to the triangle inside the circle, and the decimal .142857 (derived by dividing seven into one and resulting in a repeating decimal that never contains three or its multiples) corresponds to the points on the circle that connect the six-sided figure.
Through these two figures inside the enneagram circle, each based on the decimals of three into one and seven into one, Gurdjieff was able to present the numerological laws of the three and the seven. He taught that “all things in life work on two laws — 3 and 7.” All psychological laws fall within the law of three — as wi
th the three personality centers, and all material things fall within the law of seven.16
Gurdjieff and his followers made several claims for the enneagram as a result of these numerological beliefs.
- “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 he does not know.”17 In other words, any information that cannot be assigned its numerical value and then run through the enneagram diagram could not be understood in terms of its true cosmic significance. (must always follow the nine points around the circle, and the “will cycle,” which follows the inner figure along the lines between points 1, 4, 2, 8, 5, 7.)18
- The enneagram has the power to reveal the “timeless” aspect of any cosmic process, since the enneagram is a symbol of the cosmos (i.e., the universe itself is ordered according to the same numerical arrangement as the enneagram).19
- John Bennett, a Gurdjieff student – “enneagram is more than a picture of yourself, it is yourself….the enneagram is a living diagram and…we can experience ourselves as enneagrams.”
(B.) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND — OSCAR ICHAZO
Many different Gurdjieff groups formed after his death. The one most influential in the spread of the enneagram of personality is the Arica training (named for a city in northern Chile), a “human potential” program founded by Oscar Ichazo. Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychologist and former Esalen instructor, are both disciples of Gurdjieff, and together (according to Naranjo) originated the enneagram of personality types. Their ideas are closely related to Gurdjieff’s thought, especially regarding the structure and use of the enneagram.
At age six Ichazo became disillusioned with the Catholic church because its teachings contradicted what he learned through occultic out-of-body experiences. He rejected what his Jesuit teachers said about heaven and hell, claiming to have been there and learned more about it than Christ and the church. He came to believe that living in one’s subjectivity was the real hell, but people could become free of it. He then studied Oriental martial arts, Zen, yoga, shamanism, hypnotism, and psychology, and experimented with Andes Indian psychedelic drugs, to learn techniques to free himself from hellish subjectivity.
Ichazo impressed a group in Buenos Aires studying“esoteric consciousness-altering techniques” with his ability, so they offered him the chance to travel to Hong Kong, India, and Tibet to study more martial arts, higher yogas, alchemy, the I Ching, and Confucianism.21
Along the way Ichazo came to believe, as Gurdjieff did, in a hierarchy of spirits and entities. This included –
- He allegedly receives instructions from a higher entity called “Metatron, the prince of the archangels,” and the members of his group contact lower spirits through meditation and mantras.
- Students of his Arica training are helped and guided by an interior master, the Green Qu’Tub, who makes himself known when a student reaches a sufficiently high stage of development.22 Apparently it is the same as Qutb i Zaman, the spirit in charge of the hierarchy that speaks through other spirits, as taught by Gurdjieff (see above).
- During his spiritual searching, Ichazo learned the enneagram – possibly by applying Gurdjieff’s principle that nothing is known until placed into the enneagram, Ichazo developed a system of nine personality types, each corresponding to the enneagram’s nine points. The personality theory behind the types is based on Gurdjieff’s idea that everyone has turned away from the essence into which they were born and chosen an ego type. This compulsive ego turns people into machines and puts them spiritually asleep.
- According to Naranjo’s report, Oscar Ichazo gave these nine compulsive ego types some “dirty” names: resent, flattery, go, melancholy, stingy, coward, plan, venge, and indolent.23 Ichazo further identified Holy Ideas and Virtues which correspond to each of the nine types when a person reaches the essence level of higher consciousness.
Helen Palmer’s classic text on the enneagram gives a different version of the origin of the enneagram of personality, which is basically confirmed by Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo, too, had belonged to Gurdjieff groups, but found them wanting. On a visit home to Chile in the late 1960s he met Ichazo. He helped Ichazo develop the enneagram and disseminate it in America.
- Naranjo contributed to the personality descriptions and correlated the Freudian defense mechanisms to each of the nine types. Then, in 1970, he brought a group of 50 Esalen students to Arica, Chile for Ichazo’s training in the enneagram. When they returned to California Naranjo taught the enneagram to Esalen students — including Helen Palmer, Kathleen Riordan Speeth, and Fr. Robert Ochs, S.J.25
- Though Naranjo claims that these people had promised not to teach others the enneagram,26 the above-named people have written and lectured about it since the early 1970s. In particular, Palmer has written one of the basic texts, and Ochs introduced it to the Catholic community.
The author of the Christian Research Institute article on the Enneagram is Fr. Mitchell Pacwa, S.J. He is a professor of Scripture and Hebrew at Loyola University of Chicago. His contact with the enneagram came through Fr. Ochs, who taught it at our Jesuit seminary. He states that students (including himself) who learned it there “dalso promised not to teach it to anyone for at least two years, until we could integrate it into our own lives. However, many of us, myself included, could not resist the temptation to share this esoteric teaching with others. Many of us led classes, seminars, and retreats based on the enneagram, spreading it throughout the Catholic community in America, Australia, and other countries.”
Fr. Michell Pacwa goes on to say that learning about the roots of the enneagram was difficult because it was shrouded in SECRECY. Its OCCULTIC background was not taught to me, and most of the Catholic teachers know little if anything about that aspect. He makes a statement that shows how he realized the influence of the occult on the Enneagram – “Once I learned about its occultic roots, however, it became clear that some of these teachings seeped through to us, despite demythologization of the system. Bad theology and poor pastoral practice have accompanied the enneagram, for which reasons I now criticize it.”
(C) CRITICISM – SCIENTIFIC AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS WIHT THE ENNEAGRAM.
Nearly all the enneagram books and lecturers accept Gurdjieff’s claim that the enneagram is very ancient, originating in the Babylon or Mesopotamia of 2500 B.C. Faith in the enneagram’s antiquity is in effect a claim for its authority. In his studies of ancient literature and archaeology, Fr. Michell Pacwa found no evidence for the enneagram’s existence in ancient times, neither inscriptions nor drawings. In fact, Ouspensky’s books on Gurdjieff are its earliest appearance. John Bennett says that the symbol may go back to fourteenth century Sufis, since that was the time of the discovery of zero and the decimal point.27 The enneagram’s dependence on the decimal point for its inner shape prohibits an earlier date. However, external evidence for a medieval date is lacking; there is merely the possibility that it has mathematical roots back then.
Further, it was learned that Oscar Ichazo invented the enneagram of personality types in the 1960s.
Significantly, Ichazo’s enneagram employs the numerological background of the Sufi decimal point symbolism in understanding personality dynamics. For instance, according to the system, the number one gets worse by following the direction of the arrow on the line connected to type four; four gets worse by becoming like a two, and so forth. People improve by moving in the direction opposite the arrows; that is, a one gets better by becoming like a seven, a seven should become like a five, and so on. Remember that this inner dynamic of the six-point figure and of the triangle is based on the numerology of dividing seven into one or three into one, a dynamic rooted in occultism and divination. This occultic dynamic was Ichazo’s a priori structure into which he conformed the nine personality types and their inner principles of spiritual improvement or regression. Many people accept this and adjust their spiritual and psychological life to these principles.
=> Pacwa goes on to say that – “Even if one demythologizes the occultism, or assumes good will among those who are ignorant of the occultic roots, one must nonetheless demand an examination of this system by psychologists and behavioral scientists. What is the evidence that a resentful perfectionist (one) should seek the virtue of the happy-go-lucky planner (seven)? Why should the vengeful, power-hungry person (eight) become a helper (two) rather than seek other virtues? Besides faith in the antiquity of the system, which it does not possess, how can anyone know the best virtues to pursue for any individual type? No research has been done in this regard, yet enneagram experts suggest specific spiritual goals based on this system to their students in parishes and retreat houses. The lack of scientific study should set off alarms for anyone interested in this approach to spiritual growth.”
A second area to be questioned and tested is the existence of the nine personality types. Nine is the a priori number suggested to Ichazo and Naranjo by the occultic enneagram figure. What psychological proof do they have that only nine basic types exist? And what is the evidence that these are in fact the correct nine? This has not been researched, either.
A third area needing research is the theory of personality structure taught by enneagram experts. Following Gurdjieff, they assume everyone was born in their essence but chose an ego fixation around age three or four. Children choose these egos as a defense against their parents’ egos, but get trapped by their own defense mechanisms.
The experts also teach Gurdjieff’s theory that three centers of consciousness — mind (path), heart (oth), and belly or instinct (kath) — is true. Some associate the head center with types 5, 6, and 7; the feeling center with types 2, 3, and 4; and the belly with types 8 and 9.29 They teach Gurdjieff’s doctrine that human personality problems derive from the imbalance of these three personality centers. One goal of enneagram therapy is restoration of the interdependence of the three centers.30
=> But where is the evidence for the existence of such centers? Can psychologists confirm their existence, describe their imbalance, or test therapies that restore their balance? The enneagram industry, as Naranjo now calls it, tries to awaken these centers through “spiritual exercises” derived from yoga, zen, and Sufi practices, much the same way that kundalini yoga attempts to awaken psychic energy in the seven “chakras” of that school of yoga — a practice that is considered dangerous even by its own adherents. Why are the enneagram teachers doing this, and what is their warrant except the practices of occultists like Gurdjieff and his followers?
(D) THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS WITH THE ENNEAGRAM DOCTRINE
In addition to the scientific and psychological problems with the enneagram, Christians have many theological difficulties with it. The frequent use of such occult practices as divination and spiritism in Gurdjieff and Ichazo immediately throws up a red flag.
=> In Deuteronomy 18:9-15 and many other Scripture passages, God our Lord forbids such pursuits. Fr. Pacwa – “Most of the “experts” I know, however, avoid the occult or know nothing about its presence in the enneagram’s background. Despite this avoidance or ignorance, theological problems appear in enneagram workshops across the country.”
- Some enneagram experts claim that original sin begins when small children choose their ego type or fixation. This is utter nonsense to the Christian. Original sin, by its nature, is not some wrong that a person commits. Rather, because of the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve (in trying to “become like gods” by grasping for forbidden knowledge about good and bad — Gen. 3:5), all humans inherit original sin. Due to the fallenness of human nature, people are prone to commit actual sins, and frequently do so. Identifying a three- or four-year old child’s choice of compulsion with original sin is a biblically false doctrine.
- Another theological error follows from this one, namely, humans can undo the effects of this so-called original sin of ego fixation by means of Gurdjieff’s, Ichazo’s, or someone else’s spiritual “work.” Only the saving death on the Cross of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, can remove our sin. This is a free gift of God’s grace which no human can earn or deserve. We accept this grace from the merciful God and return gratitude to Him, which is itself His gift to us. Any removal of the effects of sin — the psychological residue or ramifications of sin — may be alleviated by psychological help along with other aids, such as charity to the poor, proclaiming the Gospel, and so forth.
- Another theological error is the claim that Jesus our Lord possesses the virtues of all nine types within Himself.31 Determining our blessed Lord’s personality type from the Gospels is an abuse both of Scripture and therapeutic technique. Jesus did not grant any interviews for a psychological profile. Nor did He personally compose the texts of the Gospels.
- Naranjo taught that the Holy Idea or Virtue of each type is one of the nine faces of God. First, God does not have nine faces. Jesus our Lord revealed that there are three coequal persons in the one God, forming what the church has long called the Trinity. However, these three persons are neither multiplying nor subdividing into nine faces. That is a silly way to speak, ungrounded in divine revelation or common sense. Second, no human can turn the face of God upside-down, right-side up, or any other way. God is our uncreated Sovereign, unmoved by created beings in any direction.
(E) PRACTICAL PROBLEMS
Books and teachers frequently claim that the enneagram helps everyone to categorize not only themselves but other people around them. A basic problem is that these famous people never had the privilege of making the enneagram workshop, so they could not type themselves.
The abuse that follows from this practice is the trivialization and abuse of relationships. People believe they have more insight into someone else than that person has: the inner dynamics of the compulsions and the expected behaviors are known to the enneagram expert better than to the person under consideration.
Pacwa goes on to say that he “does not have much respect for the enneagram industry at this point. Its occultic roots have not been thoroughly purged (if they can be), and it has opened itself to theological error and social and psychological misuse. The lack of scientific investigation means there are no controls to determine who actually is an expert, nor which advice is helpful or detrimental, nor whether the goals of the enneagram system are sound.”
Hopefully, by now, you can see the amount of baggage that is included in the ENNEAGRAM. I don’t see how including occultic beliefs and practices in your personal walk is worth the risk. I think God is clear about how He feels about false gods and idols not mixing in with Christian practices. It is difficult to conclude anything else but to strongly advice those considering this approach to instead completely avoid it. The effects on one’s spiritual walk should be protected against false teachings.
*Several sources were compiled to provide this information. Two resources that I recommend for additional information include the following:
Marcia Montenegro from Christian Answers for the New Age:
Christian Research Institute: