Muddied Roots, Psychobabble, Inoculation
Berkeley, California 1971-1976
The uncritical acceptance (and publication) of claims from distant "authorized” sources followed by fighting over their validity is sloppy thinking. Standing on shaky ground and appealing to authority to prove that one way is "authentic," or “righter” points to nasty rivalry. In this essay, I examine some of the claims about the origin of the Enneagram that began to appear about 35 years ago and subsequently have been repeated, embellished, and distorted.
When I jointed SAT in 1973, most of us did not look on Claudio Naranjo as a guru. I was so wary of being branded as a Moonie that I only allowed myself to think of him as extraordinary professor—not the Teacher of the Age, not an enlightened being, not an avatar. I was aware that he seemed to have had a profound insight, perhaps even an enlightenment experience, which tied together long years of study and investigation, and I was grateful to be present while he unpacked that inspiration.
There was some talk about the Enneagram originating hundreds of years earlier in a Sufi school, and I just nodded my head in agreement with a vague notion that there were, of course, esoteric roots. It made little difference. Like most of Naranjo’s early students, the profound experiences of self-recognition proved the power of the teaching.
Naranjo’s original presentations were dense and required time to digest and put to use. His directions were also tailored to the individual student as well as the fixation. There were no texts. Enneagram literature did not start flooding the market for another 10 years. It was an oral tradition. Naranjo talked to us, asked questions, responded to our questions, returned over and over to our own interior spaces that he thought we ought to investigate.
We all kept our own notes, There were several meticulous recorders, and we all compared notes. I mention these notes because they were the first leak of this material to the wider New Age audience. [Ms. Palmer based her first presentations on these incomplete notes.]
We also promised not to speak about the Enneagram outside the group because it was integral to self-discovery. We promised not to use certain ‘teachings’ before a specific time, certainly for any work that we would do with others, and, in some instances, that promise included our private conversations with group members. The intent of those promises was not to protect materials and income, but it did set the stage for later intellectual property lawsuits.
One woman whose notes were quite detailed justified breaking her promise of secrecy citing the principle of entropy: any system inevitably slows down and loses its vitality without an infusion of energy, new minds, fresh input, scientific studies. As enticing as this justification may sound, it appears to be dead wrong with regard to the process of transformation.1
Fact or hearsay about the Enneagon/Enneagram’s Sufi origins
Most of the written accounts of the first Enneagram teaching in the Americas repeat the claim of an esoteric teaching handed down through the Naqshbandi Sufi School (founded cc1380). The great light of Sufism in the West, Idries Shah, confirmed that the symbol, the nine-pointed figure, existed in the Naqshbandi line. The figure of the Enneagram is also found in the record of Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching—which of course lends the authority from another respected source.
The existence of a distinctive figure only demonstrates the probability of Sufi origin, perhaps adopted by the Naqshbandi. It indicates nothing about the secret origin of any four Enneagrams—Fixations, Passions, Virtues, or Holy Ideas—that Ichazo introduced and Naranjo elaborated.
What chance is there that this Enneagram has been passed down from an identifiable school, even as a secret teaching? And how could we find traces of that secret?
Mr. Gurdjieff’s use of the Enneagram
G. I. Gurdjieff wrote: "The knowledge of the enneagram has for a very long time been preserved in secret and if it now is, so to speak, made available to all, it is only in an incomplete and theoretical form of which nobody could make any practical use without instruction from a man who knows."
We know that Mr. Gurdjieff used the Enneagram, that he praised it, that he said that it expressed all the universal laws, that his students had a series of sacred movements that followed the directional lines of the figure. The picture at the top of this essay is that sacred dance. There is, however, no evidence in the primary sources about the Work that he knew the Enneagram/Enneagon of Fixations, Passions, Virtues, or Holy Ideas.
Gurdjieff’s pupil P.D. Ouspensky recorded comments about the Enneagram in his book, In Search of The Miraculous (1949), and another famous pupil, John Bennett, applied the Enneagram of Process to systems theory, organizational design, group dynamics, and psychotherapy. Neither of these sources, however, specifically point to protoanalysis or the system either Ichazo or Naranjo describe.
Claudio Naranjo was conversant with Mr. Gurdjieff’s work, his writing and that of his important disciples. For Naranjo, Gurdjieff was the epitome of teacher as trickster, a role that Naranjo loved. He never claimed, however, that he had been trained or authorized by any of Gurdjieff’s successors.
But to my mind, the most interesting possible evidence that Gurdjieff might have used the Enneagram comes from some of the personal accounts of pupils in France and America. In Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Pupil's Journey, C. S. Nott describes Mr. Gurdjieff’s efforts with one student to identify her chief characteristic before she had to return to England. It was the key to her self-remembering. Mr. Gurdjieff directed her, but the struggle to identify the lynch pin in her personality was her task and only hers. Perhaps Gurdjieff used the 27 variations of a nine-pointed figure in his exploration, but again we have no evidence. If he did, you might suspect that he passed that knowledge to his chief disciples, but any “evidence” that he did is just a guess and, in any case, bears scant resemblance to either Ichazo’s or Naranjo’s use of the Enneagram.
In Taking with the Left Hand, How the Enneagram Came to Market, (1996), William Patrick Patterson writes a blistering account of current Enneagram enthusiasts’ misappropriation by the Gurdjieff work, all of which I found very persuasive until he tries to locate the Source in ancient Egypt.
If we have to start digging back that far into a mysterious history to support self-analysis, in my view the enterprise is lost and hopeless.
The difference between Ichazo’s Enneagon and the work of Naranjo
If I were to imagine a best case scenario, during that first Arica training, Ichazo might have sensed that Naranjo had an insight that he had had to explore—a vocation in the classical sense of a path that had to follow to the end—and that the work itself would be richer. However, I can find no evidence for my scenario in any of Ichazo’s writings that are available to the public.
Claudio Naranjo referenced Ichazo’s talks on the Enneagon and protoanalysis given at the Instituto de Psicologia Aplicada (Santiago) in 1969, and Ichazo finds no fault in Naranjo’s report.
There is no evidence that Ichazo had any contact with a Forth Way teacher, at least one connected directly with Gurdjieff or any of his disciples. James Moore wrote an article on the dissemination of the Enneagram in South America. (I highly recommend this essay by one of the second generation of Gurdjieff in the UK). He concludes, “Analogically Ichazo’s enneagram is to Gurdjieff’s what the New Guinea cargo-cults are to aviation. Ichazo’s 63 ‘domains, energies, divine principles, fixations, virtues, passions, and psychocatalyzers’ seem stuck around the symbol au choix like so many bird-of-paradise feathers.” 2
The Arica Enneagon, both protoanalysis and the way that a student worked with it, was quite different from Claudio Naranjo’s understanding and practice. I knew several Esalen pioneers who had been in Arica with Naranjo. They reported that Ichazo often typed people by looking at their faces: a slight elevation of an eyebrow or crinkle around the mouth was as clear an indicator as any standardized personality test. After a lot of discussion and comparison of typing, several of the people who had been in Arica with the first Esalen group concluded that Ichazo used a different Enneagram, which, for some reason, he called the Enneagon. 3
By Ichazo’s own admission, he had had no dispute with Naranjo, but by the same token, he did not authorize Naranjo’s work. Ichazo’s lawsuit was directed at Palmer’s popularization, not Naranjo’s work from which she derived her materials. (ARICA INSTITUTE, INC. v. Helen PALMER and Harper & Row Publishers is an interesting read). Naranjo did not significantly alter the derogatory names of the points that Oscar used to identify each fixation, though Palmer created a whole new, “kinder, gentler” lexicon. Was she just changing the names to refine a pedagogical technique or was this an attempt to avoid the intellectual property rights lawsuit that eventually transpired?
Or did she wind up off base? Here is what Ichazo had to say about Ms. Palmer’s version of the Enneagram (and others who follow the Narrative tradition). “The work of the enneagram authors is plainly unscientific and without rational foundation, because it is based on dogmatic formulations as opposed to the Arica system, which under any measure is logical and scientific and is based on rational metaphysical propositions and ultimate theological truth.” 4
From most accounts, Ichazo or his deputies typed the student while Naranjo had a conversation with the person, and then, that only after a rather long period of study. If you thought you demonstrated the characteristics of a particular point, Naranjo might ask you to investigate another possibility. There were times when he just told you where to look. And he didn’t always get it right himself and from time to time revised his analysis (that is true in my own case as you will see below).
Among the current variations of the Enneagram work, only Palmer et al insist, as a “principle of the school,” that the participant determines which point he or she owns. It is often a promise in the “narrative” tradition that you will discover your type after one weekend workshop. Early protoanalysis often seemed purposefully vague—sometimes your type was switched after several months or, as in my case, years of work.
Does it actually really make any difference if you determine your type accurately after your first workshop? It just seems better if you have some understanding of the Enneagram, and some inner experience of self-observation. Then you might have some chance of being honest with yourself and becoming free. I was typed as point 7, Ego Plan, after one year in SAT and called myself a 7 well beyond the group’s dissolution. More than 19 years later, Naranjo re-typed me a 9.
Some really far flung theories
I was sitting in the classroom when a respected Jesuit said that the Enneagram probably originated in the esoteric school that trained Jesus. This assertion is as unsupported as the claim that during Jesus’s lost years, the time between when he stood up and amazed the synagogue elder’s and his baptism by John, he was initiated and trained by an Indian guru. Yet not one person in the room challenged it, and that includes me.
More recently in a pastoral letter warning Catholics about using the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual direction, the U.S. Catholic bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices cite numerological speculations of the Pythagoreans (Ishazo also suggests possible looking for some terms that he can copyright), or the ancient wisdom of the Chaldeans as possible origins of the Enneagram. Apparently Ichazo loves arguments for authority as much as Catholics.
There is also speculation that the true origins were the Jesuits or perhaps Russian Orthodox communities. Oh what might have happened if the bishops had been fed that line. The Jesuits are in hot water anyway as I will talk about in my next Enneagram post.
What can you do with any of this material? What does it have to do with self-discovery?
It is fascinating to hear what comes out of people’s mouths. Most of the speculation about the origins of the Enneagram fall into the “my best guess” category. But it might point to other grey areas in the “transmission,” and I am concerned about Enneagram teachers who don’t do their homework. I hope that their self-centered consideration of its origins is not symptomatic of sloppy thinking in general. I also have no real objection to stealing material—this is the real world. What is more problematic is the misuse of the materials.
So, what are the signs and effects of this sloppy thinking?
Most Americans would prefer to read a 600-word article in Psychology Today for their understanding of the Enneagram. Most people who attend an Enneagram workshop also seem to want to find out their type quickly. What seems to be lacking is an understanding of how to use the Enneagram and what practices support continuing self-exploration.
I have a close friend who did a Masters in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica. While there were many things he appreciated about the program, his exposure to the Enneagram had to be of the 600-word variety. I have no specifics about the training of the person who presented the system in Santa Monica, but this is what he said to me, “Yeah, it is a great system. I once knew what number I am, but I forgot.”
This Enneagram teacher might have inoculated my friend against the power of the Enneagram. Of course not everyone will be attracted to the Enneagram and the self-exploration that it might offer. But it seems to me that this path is not available to my friend now—it is very difficult to get around the part of the mind that tells you: “you don’t need to look there, you already understand that.” Throwing up that barrier has to be credited to the teacher’s account.
Of the more than 150 books about the Enneagram that have appeared sine 1980, most seem to be written to support the authors’ teaching credentials. The books also serve as promotional materials for their workshops and, at best, study guides. They are not psychological studies, but rather present basic materials on prototyping with the author’s particular spin. (I find Janet Levine’s approach rather interesting and the books of Sandra Maitri faithful to the work of the original SAT groups.)
Naranjo once said that the power of the Enneagram is such that it remains compelling as a system even if misused, but I don’t know if it can survive mistyping.
Palmer said, “Our research has found that there are far more point 8’s than Naranjo.” 5 Naranjo did speculate there were fewer 8’s among people who did the “Work” than in the general population. On the other hand Palmer’s statement might just indicate that the narrative tradition has typed more people as 8’s, and they were mistyped. Some people from the narrative tradition type George W. Bush as an 8 on the evidence that, apparently, he took us to war—Bush is a “counter phobic 6 in Naranjo’s system. Ronald Regan was a nine because, apparently, he liked his afternoon nap—Naranjo types Regan a 3.
I have a friend who insists that he is a “Palmer-Riso” 8. He would be, however, a classic 9 if Naranjo typed him. Though not easily agitated, there was an edge in his voice when he said: “I’m no ass kisser.” Through most of his remarkable career, he has been of service to others as a peace-maker who resolves very difficult conflicts with grace and ease. Yet, because he finds Sloth so un-masculine and un-American, he undervalues the roles in which he excels and misses the chance of being honest with himself. In my view, this is an example of typing as Ego massage oil. Inept hands have stripped away the power of the Enneagram.
Esoteric schools don’t have secrets because their knowledge bestows power that they don’t want to share. The secrets hide themselves and do not manifest their power until they get inside a person and change their being. I think that the closest analogy to the new Enneagram system might be the Tibetan idea of torma, a teaching that remains hidden until it is ripe. (Buddhists had to devise a way of authenticating their teaching innovations and developments in the Mahayana and Vajrayana long after Lord Buddha’s death.)
Most people who proclaim the Naqshbandi source of the Enneagram usually haven’t got the slightest idea who or what the Naqshbandi’s history or their spiritual traditions. Or at best they only possess hearsay knowledge. Ennagram practitioners didn’t go off to get Ph.D’s in Islamic studies—they got MSW’s so that they could take their psychologial wares to the marketplace.
Mr. Patterson, you might as well locate the Source in King Tut’s tomb. When people go to a museum and see a 5,000-year-old sarcophagus embedded with gold and lapis, the secret remains safe from esoteric tampering. A mummy can’t stand up and speak unless the teacher casts a magic spell.
I have not answered my own questions concerning the value and use of the “new” Enneagram tradition. There is no answer. But I have shown that most speculation about the origins of the Enneagram only supports “my best guess.” I will have more to say about how to look for some inner confirmation in my next post to “Spiritually Incorrect.”
Donovan Bess was at 60+ perhaps SAT’s oldest member. He had been a reporter and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for most of his career. He was curious, interested in others, vital as well as a seasoned self-observer. I liked him enormously. He died in Egypt when he was 81. After a day that included riding a camel and exploring the temples in Luxor, he went back to the hotel with his long time companion and died. She reported that he simply smiled and stopped breathing.
I am not seeking to prove that the Enneagram has roots in the cults of Egyptian gods or its authority as a sure predictor of behavior, but I have felt its power in my own life. If I were looking for evidence that the Enneagram is a powerful tool in the disciple of self-exploration, Donovan pointed in a clear direction in his last hours and minutes.
1 The central premise of psychodynamics is based on the first law of thermodynamics, which states that the total amount of matter and energy in any system under study, which undergoes any transformation or process, is conserved. Translating this physical law into a psychological concept, the originators of psychodynamics hypothesized that experiences, especially early childhood experiences, in theory, are conserved in the unconscious. Subsequently, conserved experiences later in life must either remain buried in the mind or find their way to the surface, i.e. the “conscious” level. This, in the former case, results in psychological states as neurosis and psychosis. For further information, click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychodynamics.
2 “The Enneagram: A Developmental Study.” First published in Religion Today: A Journal of Contemporary Religions (London) V (3), October 1986-January 1987, pp.1-5.
3 In my research I discovered speculation that Ichazo renamed the Enneagram “Enneagon” for copyright purposes.
4 “Letter to the Transpersonal Community” by Oscar Ichazo.
5 Personal notes.