What is the history of the Enneagram?

The Enneagram has ancient roots but gained most of its modern applicability in the past century. It began as a nine-pointed symbol that originated around 2500 B.C., likely in Greece or Babylon, to represent interacting forces of wholeness, balance, and change, with ties to Western religions, natural science, geometry, and philosophy. In 1875, a Greek-Armenian named George Ivanovich Gurdjieff rediscovered the Enneagram symbol and began teaching a philosophy of consciousness and psychology based on it.

It wasn’t until the 1950s when a Bolivian named Oscar Ichazo linked the concept of the Enneagram symbol to nine distinct personality archetypes. Ichazo rediscovered a third century A.D. philosophy of nine divine characteristics of human nature. Somewhere along the course of history, these nine attributes lost two, flipped from positive to negative, and shifted into the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian tradition. Ichazo re-added the missing two sins (fear and deceit) and realized that they mapped to one dominant pattern of distorted thinking, or “ego fixation,” that characterizes different types of people. 

 

In 1970, a psychiatrist specializing in gestalt therapy named Claudio Naranjo studied with Icazo and returned to California to develop a program that more closely resembles the Enneagram today. He grouped individuals who fit certain psychological makeups or disorders, completed extensive interviews and panel discussions with them, and then used that data to build out detailed descriptions of the nine Enneagram types. His teachings spread widely, including to Don Riso, who further expanded the details of the types through his own research and added the Levels of Development in 1977. 

 

Riso published many of the most comprehensive and respected Enneagram books, including several with his partner Russ Hudson, who joined the work in 1991. They created one of the most well-known Enneagram questionnaires, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI). Today, the Enneagram is one of the most commonly used personality models in the world, with hundreds of books and guides on the subject and widespread application in businesses, psychology and psychiatry practices, personal development workshops, religious organizations, coaching, pop culture, and more.

Read more about the history of the Enneagram on our blog.