The Traditional Enneagram


The Enneagram of Personality Types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions, but the person who originally put the system together was Oscar Ichazo. Ichazo was born in Bolivia and raised there and in Peru, but as a young man, moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn from a school of inner work he had encountered. Thereafter, he journeyed in Asia gathering other knowledge before returning to South America to begin putting together a systematic approach to all he had learned.

After many years of developing his ideas, he created the Arica School as a vehicle for transmitting the knowledge that he had received, teaching in Chile in the late 1960's and early 70's, before moving to the United States where he still resides. In 1970, When Ichazo was still living in South America, a group of Americans, including noted psychologists and writers Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly, went to Arica, Chile to study with Ichazo and to experience firsthand the methods for attaining self-realization that he had developed.

This group spent several weeks with Ichazo, learning the basics of his system and engaged in the practices he taught them. The Arica school, like any serious system of inner work, is a vast, interwoven, and sometimes complex body of teachings on psychology, cosmology, metaphysics, spirituality, and so forth, combined with various practices to bring about transformations of human consciousness. (Neither Don Riso nor Russ Hudson was affiliated with this school, and therefore cannot describe it with any justice, but those seeking to learn more about it can do so through Arica publications1).

Among the highlights for many of the participants was a system of teachings based on the ancient symbol of the Enneagram. The Enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the works of Pythagoras. 2 The symbol was reintroduced to the modern world by George Gurdjieff, the founder of a highly influential inner work school. Gurdjieff taught the symbol primarily through a series of sacred dances or movements, designed to give the participant a direct, felt sense of the meaning of symbol and the processes it represents. What Gurdjieff clearly did not teach was a system of types associated with the symbol. Gurdjieff did reveal to advanced students what he called their chief feature. The chief feature is the lynchpin of a person's ego structure—the basic characteristic that defines them. Gurdjieff generally used colorful language to describe a person's chief feature, often using the Sufi tradition of telling the person what kind of idiot they were. People could be round idiots, square idiots, subjective hopeless idiots, squirming idiots, and so forth. But Gurdjieff never taught anything about a system of understanding character related to the Enneagram symbol.

For these and other reasons, many early Enneagram enthusiasts have mistakenly attributed the system of the nine types to Gurdjieff or to the Sufis because of Gurdjieff's use of some Sufi techniques. This has led to the widespread and erroneous belief that the Enneagram system has been handed down from the Sufis or from some other ancient school as an ongoing "oral tradition." While it is true that Ichazo drew on his knowledge of a number of such traditions, the actual combination of those traditions connected with the Enneagram symbol is purely his creation. Thus, the "Traditional Enneagram" only goes back to the 1960's when Ichazo was first teaching it, although 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)—all traditions that stretch back into antiquity.

In Personality Types (11-26), we offered a more extensive history of the system, but here, we want to look at the basics of the Enneagram system developed by Ichazo. 3

Ichazo actually taught Aricans a system of 108 Enneagrams (or "Enneagons," in his terminology), but the Enneagram movement in America has been based on the first few, and primarily on four of them. These are called the Enneagram of the Passions, the Enneagram of the Virtues, the Enneagram of the Fixations, the Enneagram of the Holy Ideas.

To grasp the significance of these diagrams and the relationship between them, we must remember that the system was designed primarily to help elucidate the relationship between Essence and personality, or ego. In Ichazo's own words:

"We have to distinguish between a man as he is in essence, and as he is in ego or personality. In essence, every person is perfect, fearless, and in a loving unity with the entire cosmos; there is no conflict within the person between head, heart, and stomach or between the person and others. Then something happens: the ego begins to develop, karma accumulates, there is a transition from objectivity to subjectivity; man falls from essence into personality." (Interviews with Ichazo, page 9)

Thus, Ichazo saw the Enneagram as a way of examining specifics about the structure of the human soul and particularly about the ways in which actual soul qualities of Essence become distorted, or contracted into states of ego. In developing his Enneagram theories, he drew upon a recurrent theme in Western mystical and philosophical tradition—the idea of nine divine forms. This idea was discussed by Plato as the Divine Forms or Platonic Solids, qualities of existence that are essential, that cannot be broken down into constituent parts. This idea was further developed in the third century of our era by the Neo-Platonic philosophers, particularly Plotinus in his central work, The Enneads.

These ideas found their way from Greece and Asia Minor southward through Syria and eventually to Egypt. There, it was embraced by early Christian mystics known as the Desert Fathers who focused on studying the loss of the Divine Forms in ego consciousness. The particular ways in which these Divine forms became distorted came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins: anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth. How the original nine forms, in the course of their travels from Greece to Egypt over the course of a century, became reduced to seven deadly sins remains a mystery.

Another key influence Ichazo employed in developing these ideas comes from mystical Judaism, and particularly from the teachings of the Kabbala. Central to Kabbala is a diagram called Tree of Life (Etz Hayim in Hebrew). The Tree of Life is a said to be a map showing the particular patterns and laws by which God created the manifest universe. The diagram is composed of 10 spheres (Sefirot) connected by 22 paths in particular ways. Most significantly, Ichazo must have been aware of the Kabbalistic teaching that all human souls are "sparks" that arise out of these spheres or emanations from the Kabbalistic Tree. (The first sphere, Keter, is reserved for the Messiah, leaving nine other spheres for the rest of us.) In the traditional teachings of the Kabbala, for instance, each of the great patriarchs of the Bible were said to be embodiments of the different spheres of the Tree. 4 This teaching suggests that there are different kinds of souls—different emanations or facets of the Divine Unity.

Ichazo's brilliant work was in discovering how these Divine Forms and their corresponding distortions connected with the Enneagram symbol and with the three Centers of human intelligence, Thinking, Feeling, and Instinct. He called the higher, essential qualities of the human mind the Holy Ideas, in accordance with western mystical tradition. Each Holy Idea also has a corresponding Virtue. The Virtues are essential qualities of the heart experienced by human beings when they are abiding in Essence. As a person loses awareness and presence, falling away from Essence into the trance of the personality, the loss of awareness of the Holy Idea becomes a person's Ego-fixation, and the loss of contact with the Virtue causes the person's characteristic Passion. While everyone has the capacity to embody all of the Holy Ideas and Virtues, one pair of them is central to the soul's identity, so the loss if it is felt most acutely, and the person's ego is most preoccupied with recreating it, although in a futile, self-defeating way. See the diagram below.

Relationship between Higher Essence Qualities and Ego Distortions

Relationship between Higher Essence Qualities and Ego Distortions

The Virtues, Passions, Holy Ideas, and Fixations

Thus, the Passions and Ego-fixations represent the ways that spiritual qualities become contracted into ego states. There are, according to Ichazo's theory, nine main ways that we lose our center and become distorted in our thinking, feeling, and doing, and are thus the nine ways that we forget our connection with the Divine. (The Passions can also be thought of as our untamed animal nature before it is transformed by contact from higher influences—awareness and Grace.)

Because of this particular relationship between the higher qualities of the soul and their corresponding ego distortions, a person could, by using presence and awareness to recognize the pattern of their distortion—their characteristic passion and ego-fixation—come to recognize the quality of Essence that had been obscured. By remembering or contemplating the higher quality, balance could be restored, thus accelerating the person's awareness of themselves as Essence. Knowing one's "type" was a way to direct one's inner work to facilitate the transformative process.

The Virtues describe the expansive, non-dual qualities of Essence experienced in a direct, felt way by a person abiding in their true nature. The Virtues are the natural expression of the awakened heart. We do not try to force ourselves to be "virtuous"—rather, as we relax and become more present and awake, seeing through the fear and desire of the ego self, these qualities naturally manifest themselves in the human soul.

"An essential individual will be in contact with these [Virtues] constantly, simply by living in his body. But the subjective individual, the ego, loses touch with these Virtues. Then the personality tries to compensate by developing passions." (Interviews with Oscar Ichazopage 19).

The Passions represent an underlying emotional response to reality created by the loss of contact with our Essential nature, with the ground of our Being, with our true identity as Spirit or Essence. The underlying hurt, shame, and grief that this loss entails are enormous, and our ego is compelled to come up with a particular way of emotionally coping with the loss. This temporarily effective, but ultimately misguided coping strategy is the Passion. But because the Passion is a distortion of an inherent, essential Virtue, recognizing the Passion can help us to restore the Virtue.5

In a related way, the Virtue of each type can also be seen as an antidote to its Passion and as a focal point for the type's positive traits. By recalling the Virtue in a state of presence, the Passion can be gradually transformed. The restoration of the virtue and the transformation of the passion is an extremely important part of the spiritual use of the Enneagram.

The Holy Ideas represent specific non-dual perspectives of Essence—particular ways of knowing and recognizing the unity of Being. They are what naturally arises in a clear, quiet mind when a person is present and awake, seeing reality as it actually is. The loss of a Holy Idea leads to a particular ego-delusion about the self or reality, called the type's Ego-fixation. Through the ego-fixation, the person is trying to restore the balance and freedom of the Holy Idea, but from the dualistic perspective of ego, cannot. Again, understanding the perspective of our type's Holy Idea functions as an antidote to the ego-fixation. The non-dual perspective of our true nature is restored as we see through the particular delusions of our type.6

                                       Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Virtues

                                       Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Virtues

                                    Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Passions

                                    Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Passions

                                   Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Holy Ideas

                                   Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Holy Ideas

                               Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Ego-Fixations

                               Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram of the Ego-Fixations


  1. We particularly recommend Interviews with Oscar Ichazo, Arica Press, 1982. It gives readers a feel for Ichazo's overall philosophy and explains in simple language his orientation and use of Enneagrams, or "Enneagons," as he calls them.
  2. Ichazo has called the Enneagram the "Ninth Seal of Pythagoras," see Goldberg, 1993.
  3. We do not claim to be representatives of Ichazo's teachings, but rather wish to offer our own interpretation of a few of them based on our own work with the system over the last few decades.
  4. See Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree, by Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, Weiser 1974. On page he provides the relationship between the sefirot and the patriarchs. See also Howard Addison's The Enneagram and Kabbala, Jewish Lights Press, 1998.
  5. For a more extensive discussion of the Passions, see Character and Neurosis, Claudio Naranjo, Gateways, 1994.

       6.  For a full treatment of the Holy Ideas, see Facets of Unity, A.H. Almaas, Diamond Books, 1998.

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