Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Enneagram: Spirituality It Is Not

by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.


This is an article describing what the Enneagram is and what it is not. Father Mitch Pacwa warns followers of the pantheistic and occultic roots that inspired the modern lectures and classes being taught on the Enneagram. He dissects the increasingly popular system of examining one’s personality and the dangers of using this system to measure one’s spiritual state.

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Publisher & Date

JOHN XXIII Fellowship Co-op. Ltd., Australia, September, 1999

The Enneagram is alleged to be a 2000-year-old Sufi system of personality types from Islamic mystics who lived before the time of Christ.

The Enneagram is a circle, meant to symbolise the Cosmos and the "one-ness" which comes from a monist perspective. The Sufis are monists believing that we are all one with each other and with the universe and at the same time pantheists believing that the universe is god. So that's why they're not highly regarded in Islam, because they're kind of Heterodox.

Inside the circle is a triangle, and it connects up the points of the 9, the 3 and the 6; and it symbolizes God. We should notice right away that it's God inside the cosmos, not the cosmos inside God.

There's another figure that is 6 sided and it connects from the 1 to the 4, 4 to the 2, 2 to the 8, 8 to the 5, 5 to the 7, and the 7 back to the 1 again. And there you have your Enneagram. (Ennea is Greek for "nine")

It is claimed that the Enneagram is a system revealing nine personality types and it is used in the various workshops and taught in seminaries.

Nine Personality Types

1. 'The Perfectionist: personality type—"ego-resent",

2. The Caregiver: personality type—"ego-flattery". These types will try to say nice things about you so that you can say nice things back to them.

3. The Achiever: personality type—"ego-go". It doesn't have a real interior life, it's all in its role, and all in its functions in society rather than to an interior depth.

4. The Artist: personality type—"ego-melancholy".

This type feels sad that it is among so many people that are without real sophistication. They're sad and melancholic - over being so artistic among so many bores.

5. The Observer: personality type—"ego-stinge — these people want to gather in all sorts of things and never give anything back.

6. The Team Player: personality type—"ego-cowardic"

7. The Optimist: personality type—"ego-gluttony".

8. The Competitor: personality type—"ego-venge".

9. The Peacemaker: personality type—"ego-indolent". Don't cause any problems, just sort of let things be.

This 'typing' system, and its 'Sufi' origins, are quite problematic.

First of all: It cannot be a 2000-year-old Sufi system. That is absolute nonsense. Sufism is part of Islam. Islam is from the 7th century AD. Sufism is from the 10 Century AD. How can the Sufis invent something 1000 years before they exist?

Secondly: As the Enneagram proponents pointed out, it is based on the decimal point to form these 2 figures inside the circle. The decimal point was not invented until the late 14, more likely the 15th century AD. How can something based on the decimal point exist before the decimal point was invented?

Where There The Enneagram Come From?

The earliest evidence that we have for the existence of the Enneagram is around 1900 AD. It was brought in by a man named George Ilych Gurdjieff from Georgia. He was half Armenian, half Greek, and was a seminarian for some years as a young boy; by age 13, he left the seminary in pursuit of the occult. He became heavily involved in the occult and the pursuit of it, travelling around the Mediterranean, Egypt, India, Tibet, until he came across a group of Sufis who lived in Central Asia.

He learned the Enneagram from them. Originally, the Enneagram had been used in Central Asia for fortune telling through numerology, hence the importance of the decimal points.

The Sufis picked it up and used it as a symbol of the 9 stages of enlightenment: You move from your "ego" into your essence. What do they mean by essence? Your essence is that same being within you that has the same image as God. So your inner being has the same divine nature as God has. So it's a very pantheistic and monist system. But it's through very rigorous cleansing yourself of your ego and getting into your essence.

Gurdjieff also came across a spirit that he used to get in contact with called "the pillar of time". And he came from Central Asia to Moscow a millionaire, making a million dollars through shady techniques, and made more money selling Persian rugs.

He eventually ended up in Paris where he taught the Enneagram—again as a symbol of the 9 stages of getting to your essence and to your divine interior life. That was his goal.

Nothing of personality types. Nothing. None of his students described personality types. People like Piotto Dimetri Ouspernsky, a mathematician who worked with him, and worked a lot with mathematics, and the planets and the colours and notes. All that stuff is in their books, but nothing on personalities.

When I took the Enneagram, we were told this myth of it being 2000 years old, or even 4000 years old, and so on. However, I fortunately came across other information, and I'll give you some details.

First of all you have Don Riso, an ex-Jesuit, who studied the Enneagram from the same man that taught me, Bob Ochs. Also, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Nararzjo. These are going to be key characters.

Don Riso is the head of the Enneagram research and study — and I use the term 'research' very loosely — in New York City. Claudio Naranzjo is a physchologist from the Esselin Institute, in California, which is a pretty New Age, humanistic psychology mixed bag centre, on the Coast of California. As a matter of fact, Esselin got so bad one year they had to close down the dormitories because they had so many students committing suicide. Not really the pinnacle of mental health if you ask me. But Claudio Naranzjo teaches at Esselin.

These two tell the same story. That Oscar Ichazo invented the Enneagram. By the way I am not dealing with any of the enemies of the Enneagram, all of these are Enneagram enthusiasts. I am only using the Enneagram teachers, inventors and enthusiasts for my own source.

In one of Don Riso's books, he said that Oscar Ichazo, a Chilean occultist, is in contact with spirits like Metatron, the chief of the Archangels. I said wait a minute. Whose side is that Archangel on? I don't think it's St Michael's.

Oscar Ichazo claims to have the source of all grace on planet earth today. All grace on the earth comes through Ichazo. He is in contact with all the ascended masters and is himself an ascended master. He was given the Enneagram personality types by his spirit, Metatron. Metatron told him to take the Enneagram — just as a drawing without any names on it—and on the Enneagram place the capital sins.

Wait a minute—how many capital sins are there? 7, so he didn't have enough, so he made up 2 more. For No.3, appropriately enough, he added the capital sin of "deceit". Then for the No.6 he added "cowardice". He put the other capital sins—1 Anger, 2 Pride, 4 Envy, 5 Avarice, 7 Gluttony, 8 Lust, and then of course, indolence is sloth. So he put the 7 capital sins plus deceit and cowardice on the points, and then gave them these names of ego-flattery etc. And that's all that he had. That's all that Ichazo had from the spirit.

Claudio Naranzjo, also a Chilean, came down to Chile on a home visit from America. He met Ichazo and said, "I wasn't impressed with Ichazo when I first met him. But when I sat and meditated in his presence, I felt his power and I accepted him as a teacher. I became very fascinated with his Enneagram."

Naranzjo took the personal characteristics from Karen Home's psychology system, and he put them on the Enneagram associated with each type. Naranzjo added descriptions for each type. He also took the Freudian defence mechanisms and put one around for each type. Together, Ichazo and Naranzjo taught a course in the Enneagram, around 1969, to a group of Americans in Chile, right on the border of Chile and Peru.

Naranzjo went back to Esselin, and taught a course on the Enneagram at Esselin, to people like Helen Palmer, Fr Robert Ochs and a number of other people.

Bob Ochs, after that course, came and taught it at our theologate, to people like Pat O'Leary from Cleveland, Colly Moloney in Canada, and later on, Gerry Hare who taught Richard Rohr. And I, who'd also taught Richard Rohr the Enneagram (before Gerry Hare taught him)—we began to teach the Enneagram course, and it has spread from these people in that course at the Jesuit School of Theology.

Today, there is not a single Jesuit in my province, or the next province over, teaching the Enneagram. There is not a single Jesuit left in the society teaching the Enneagram. Either they've stooped teaching the Enneagram, or they've left the Society. Not a single one is left.

Pat O'Leary drove our retreat centre in Cleveland into the red so far that it went bankrupt. He was giving 52 Enneagram seminars a year at this place — plus going out to other places to give Enneagram seminars, and he is still driving it into the ground. Same thing has happened at the retreat house in Western Massachusetts and another one on the coast run by the Dominicans — two Dominicans, a priest and a nun, on full time Enneagram work. It runs them out of business. It's something that people in your dioceses better pay attention to.

Here Are My Critiques:

I have mentioned all this in terms of its roots, to de-mythologise the absolute nonsensical myth of it being a 2000-year-old Sufi system. That is untrue. It's less than 30 years old. I don't intend to say in any way that the Catholic teachers of the Enneagram are promoting pantheism; they don't know its pantheistic roots; they don't know about its occultic roots; they don't know that it came from spirit channelling; they don't know that it was originally a form of fortune-telling. They haven't got a clue of that. They all believe the old myth — or the not so old myth — the 30-year-old myth of it being an ancient system.

My concern is to expose its roots and then raise up these six questions.

The first question is: How do we know that the core of characterological structure is one capital sin? That's the assumption of the Enneagram. What evidence do we have that the core of each characterological structure is one capital sin? I don't brag about this. It's simply a fact—I commit more than one of the capital sins. Sometimes I make the rounds. And to focus just on one capital sin is a mistake. This was one of the problems I saw with the Enneagram when I used it, and with other people using it. You just focus on your one sin, and not the other capital sins that you commit. I don't think that that's legitimate. What evidence do we have that there's one capital sin at the core of your personality? Except Oscar Ichazo and his spirit Metatron said so.

Secondly. How do we know that there are only 9 personality types? Except Oscar Ichazo and his spirit said so. Remember, he had to force the capital sins to fit into the Enneagram by making up 2 more. Richard Rohr — maybe you've heard about him — has tapes on the Enneagram, and there he just waxes eloquently about how deep and insightful these Sufis are. We in the Western tradition only have 7 capital sins, they have 9. Richard, that's not the way it works. The guy had to force the capital sins into the system. What evidence do we have that that is true—except Ichazo and his spirit said so? That's not good enough.

Thirdly, how do we know that these are the nine capital sins or types except Oscar Ichazo and his spirit Metatron said so?

Fourthly, how do we know that the descriptions for each one of these types is accurate and true except Claudio Naranzjo said so? There's no other evidence. It's never been tested.

Fifthly, and I think this is a very important point, is that the system also has within it these arrows on the lines, and the arrows point in a certain direction.

The direction of the arrows indicates a worse state, so that a 7 gets worse by becoming like an angry 1. The angry 1 gets worse by becoming a melancholic envious type. The 4 gets worse by becoming like a 2, full of flattery, and the 2 gets worse by becoming vengeful like the 8 and the 8 gets worse by becoming stingy like the 5, and so on. How do you know that that's true?

More importantly, to get better, according to the Enneagram, you have to go against the arrow. So to improve, the 1 has to become like the 7, the 7 like the 5, the 5 like the 8, and so on. How do we know that's true? Except Ichazo and Naranzjo said so. There's no evidence for that.

Goofy advice is being given in spiritual direction on the basis of this.

One nun was told by another nun "What you need to do because you're a number 2 on the Enneagram, is move out of your convent, get yourself a new apartment and buy a cat, and learn to become creatively self-centred." Why? Because each one of these Enneagram numbers also has its own totem animal, and the totem of a 2 is a cat. You know, I don't remember that part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Our Lord told us to be creatively self-centred, or uncreatively self-centred? This is nonsense.

In Singapore I read three more books on the Enneagram by some of its newer proponents. One was by a nun from the Philippines who still has a lot of the old Sufi lingo with it. She obviously got the material fairly close to the source, and she's still talking a lot of this Sufi nonsense. The other, by a Benedictine from Chicago, was a book on how to 'type' the people, and she has another book on spiritual direction. In her whole book on spiritual direction Jesus Christ is mentioned once! God is mentioned 7 times. What is she directing these people towards?

One of the examples she uses has a woman who says: "Well, Michael and I began to act out sexually, and at first I felt this guilt. But I realised God doesn't give me this guilt. God just loves us so unconditionally. It's the guilt I feel because my mother would not approve, and so I had to learn to overcome my mother's lack of approval."

The nun who wrote the book never commented. She was happy the woman came to 'enlightenment'. This is part of the perversity of the Enneagram.

Now I am glad that this lady's mother is opposed to mortal sins like adultery or fornication. That's good! And I do think that God, Our Lord has a problem with committing adultery or fornication. He made His hit parade of 10 most favourite Commandments. It's something that Christ did. From the Sermon on the Mount, all the way to the end of Revelation we see Him mentioning you can't go to heaven —it is a matter of fact— it's Christ who says, that if you do these sins you'll go to hell. The apostles are more reticent, they simply say you won't go to heaven, but Christ did say "you're going to Gehenna if you commit these sins", and that's never brought up because according to them, it's not a matter of right and wrong, only enlightenment matters.

The sixth question is crucial. Is it true or not?

There is not a single study done by any professionals checking on the truth of the Enneagram system. I'll bet that if it is studied it'll be shown to be phony-balony. None of these other five questions have been examined or asked yet; there are no criteria for the Enneagram or for its teachers.

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