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A symbol with mysterious origins, the enneagram is thought to have some connection with the abstract, mystical, and spiritual knowledge once known by the ancients. Today, it’s widely used as a tool for personal transformation, as it opens up a whole new world of understanding why we do what we do. Here’s what to know about the nine-pointed geometric symbol.
What Is the Enneagram Symbol?
The enneagram symbol is a nine-pointed diagram, which illustrates how different personality types relate to one another. The term is derived from two Greek words ennea and gramma, meaning nine and something that is drawn or written respectively. It’s made up of a circle and connecting lines that are evenly spaced, as well as a triangle and an irregular hexagon.
The connecting lines result in nine points, which represent the nine personalities. The nine points are numbered clockwise from 1 to 9, but the enneagram numbers are neutral, so whether you have a big or small number doesn’t mean anything. Instead, they’re used as a marker of each personality, such as 1 for the Reformer, 4 for the Individualist, and 7 for the Enthusiast.
The enneagram symbol also reveals your wings—the related personalities you can transition into as you experience life’s ups and downs—so you can achieve your full potential. For instance, the Peacemakers are easygoing and understanding, but they can also be more assertive in standing up for what they believe in, as well as become proactive in resolving issues.
While the enneagram is a symbol, it would be more accurate to think of it as a system. Nowadays, it’s used to represent the big picture of a person’s whole identity, including one’s nature and values. Compared to other tools used by psychologists and counselors, it’s not valued scientifically. However, this doesn’t make the symbol any less meaningful.
Meaning and Symbolism of the Enneagram Symbol
The Enneagram is a complex study of psychology, as it’s used to understand people through different personality types. Some associate it with transformation, as it opens a pathway to self-discovery and fosters greater understanding that transcends gender, culture and religion.
However, the interpretation on the enneagram symbol has been expanded by more modern thinkers, associating it with philosophy, spirituality and even occultism. In esoteric belief, each part of the enneagram symbol holds meaning:
The shape itself represents wholeness, unity, and interconnectedness of all things—or the Law of One.
The shape symbolizes the triadic nature of reality. It’s also associated with the Law of Three, which states that three forces should intervene in every manifestation: the active, the passive, and the neutralizing forces.
While most cultures acknowledge the concept of dualism—such as right and wrong, black and white, material and spiritual—the Law of Three is thought to open more possibilities, which is beyond the limitations of dualism.
The hexade represents the Law of Seven, which is the basis of all vibratory movements. In the enneagram symbol, it appears as six symmetrical arms, guided by arrows.
The Nine Points
In the enneagram symbol, each point represents a particular personality type. However, the personality aspect of the symbol is a relatively new concept.
The Nine Enneagram Personality Types
Most researchers tend to focus on the psychological rather than the mystical aspect of the enneagram symbol. The nine points on the symbol represent the nine personality types, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Each personality type is known by both its number and name.
1- The Reformer
Reformers are known to be rational, balanced, and perfectionists. They have a sense of integrity, and fear of being corrupt and evil. However, they can also become too critical and controlling. Famous people identified with this personality type are Confucius, Hillary Clinton, and Martha Stewart, as well as fictional character Joe Friday from Dragnet.
2- The Helper
Helpers are warm, caring, and loving, but they fear being unwanted or unloved by others. They can also become possessive, manipulative and prideful when their needs aren’t met. Some famous Helpers include Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, and Bill Cosby. Also, fictional characters like Mary Poppins and Counselor Troi from Star Trek are identified with this personality type.
3- The Achiever
Achievers are known to be goal oriented, highly ambitious, and competitive. Since they fear being unaccomplished and worthless, they tend to become too obsessed with their image. Some famous people who embody this personality are Tom Cruise, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Also, Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby is the perfect literary example of this personality.
4- The Individualist
Individualists are creative, unique, and personal, but they’re also known as the sensitive, withdrawn type. Since they fear lacking a unique identity, they tend to be self-conscious and moody. Famous people that reflect this type include Johnny Depp, Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, and Judy Garland. Fictional characters Hamlet and Blanche DuBois also belong to this type.
5- The Investigator
Investigators are wise and knowledgeable, but they might be seen as detached from the world around them. They fear being inadequate and helpless, so they strive to become competent in everything. Some Investigators in history are Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates. Also, fictional character Sherlock Holmes falls into this personality type.
6- The Loyalist
Loyalists are cooperative, committed, and security oriented. However, they fear being incapable surviving on their own, which makes them anxious and defensive. Some well-known Loyalists are Jon Stewart, Andy Rooney, Woody Allen, and fictional characters Ahab in Moby Dick, and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
7- The Enthusiast
Enthusiasts are known for being optimistic, spontaneous, and extroverted. However, they fear deprivation and pain, so they tend to become impatient and impulsive. Some famous people who belong to this type include George Clooney, Robin Williams, Richard Branson, Tom Robbins, and John F. Kennedy. Also, Isadora Wing from the Fear of Flying gives us a glimpse of this type.
8- The Challenger
Challengers are confident, independent, and powerful, but they can also be temperamental and domineering. They fear being controlled or harmed by others. Some famous Challengers are Napoleon Bonaparte, Humphrey Bogart, Fidel Castro, as well as fictional characters Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew and Zorba the Greek.
9- The Peacemaker
Peacemakers are known to be modest, trusting, and patient, but they tend to become too complacent and apathetic. Also, they fear loss and separation from others. Famous people who are Peacemakers include Grace Kelly, Sandra Bullock, and Bill Clinton. Also, fictional character Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz belongs to this type.
History of the Enneagram Symbol
The enneagram symbol is believed to be ancient, as it’s composed of basic figures like circle and triangle. However, there’s no solid historical evidence on its ancient origin. Many believe it has associations with different faith traditions, such as Sufi mysticism, Jewish Kabbalah, and early esoteric Christianity. It’s a dynamic symbol that has undergone many changes, the most recent of which only occurred as recently as the late 20th century.
- The Unknown Origin of the Symbol
Multiple origins have been claimed for the enneagram symbol, yet none of them have been confirmed. Some believe that Pythagoras used the symbol after learning of it in Heliopolis, an ancient religious center in Egypt. Unfortunately, no writing of the philosopher survived.
In the Enneads, a text written on the basis of Neoplatonism, ancient philosopher Plotinus mentioned nine divine qualities of humans, which many associate with the nine points of the enneagram symbol. Others believe that the symbol was introduced to esoteric Judaism through Jewish philosopher Philo.
The next claim is that the enneagram symbol was used by early Christian mystics known as the Desert Fathers in the 3rd century. Some variations of the symbol are also thought to appear in Sufism, a mystical Islamic belief, though it’s a very recent source for an ancient symbol.
Unfortunately, the enneagram symbol fails to stand up to the said historical claims even today. It seems that the Greco-Armenian mystic and philosopher G. I. Gurdjieff was the first person to make the symbol publicly known.
- G.I. Gurdjieff and the Enneagram
As a teacher of esoteric spirituality, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff spent his life traveling in Egypt, India, and other parts of the Middle East, learning about different religious beliefs and traditions. He claimed to have learned the enneagram symbol from an occult brotherhood in Central Asia.
Since sacred dances were involved in his teaching, Gurdjieff used the enneagram symbol to illustrate a special musical scale. He even drew the symbol on a floor, and his students danced on it. Some sources also say that he used some techniques of Islamic mysticism, tarot reading, and occult practices.
According to his students, Gurdjieff regarded the enneagram symbol as the source of knowledge about the universe, likely because of the mathematical laws it contains. The symbol is thought to contain the so-called Law of Three and Law of Seven taught by him. However, he didn’t mention the personality aspect in his writings, so the concept is believed to be of later origin.
- P.D. Ouspensky and Rodney Collin
A student of G.I. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky provided some insights about the enneagram symbol through his book In Search of the Miraculous. Eventually, Rodney Collin, a student of Ouspensky used the symbol as a diagram to illustrate the types of humanity in his book The Christian Mystery.
The ancient idea of personalities was believed to be influenced by planets and celestial bodies, so Collins used the terms Mercurial types, Lunar types, Saturnine types, and Venusian types. This suggests that he was the first to link the enneagram symbol with personality types.
- Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo
In 1960, philosopher Oscar Ichazo adopted Gurdjieff’s teachings and added different concepts about the enneagram symbol. Since he was an occultist, it’s widely believed that his concepts were guided by Metatron.
By the 1970s, psychologist Claudio Naranjo introduced Ichazo’s concept to the world of psychology. Later, the enneagram symbol and its personality-related concepts were introduced to communities and religious groups throughout the United States.
The Enneagram Symbol in Modern Times
In 2004, the Enneagram was found to be comparable with other accepted personality theories like the Big Five and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Eventually, the enneagram symbol and its concept were promoted, from small businesses in Europe to U.S. government departments, in hopes of improving leadership, teamwork, and communication.
The Enneagram remains widely used in psychotherapy, counseling, parenting, and education. It has been the inspiration of various subjects, from personal transformation to relationships, career, spiritual growth, and even New Age beliefs. After all, it helps people identify their strengths and encourage personal growth.
In recent years, many have been experimenting with the enneagram symbol and its concept for personal and spiritual development. It draws from many sources from ancient wisdom traditions to modern psychology and esoteric philosophy. The Enneagram reveals the nine different personalities in the system, which are said to help you know yourself better, improve your relationships, and achieve personal goals.