Ditch Your Enneagram. Focus on Your Design.
Several months ago I heard people talking about what “number” they were. I am often late to the party on trends, so it wasn’t unusual for me to ask a friend for an explanation. She told me about the enneagram, a personality test that gives you one of nine numbers. Each of these nine numbers has certain motivations, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses associated with it.
I have taken other personality tests over the years so I didn’t think much of it. But I continued to hear about the enneagram from other people. I could never put my finger on it, but I had a strange feeling. So I went and looked up its history.
The enneagram is the work of several key players: George Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Naranjo.
Gurdjieff (1887-1949) was a Russian mystic and spiritual teacher who, after traveling throughout Asia and the Far East, began to teach a mixture of Christianity, Islam, and Hindu traditions he called “The Fourth Way”. He claimed this method would bring its practitioners to a higher state of consciousness. He is the one who popularized the term enneagram, although he didn’t associate it with personality types. He did, however, believe that the enneagram held the secret to creation and the universe. In his own words:
“All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a man is able to put into the enneagram does he actually know, that is, understand. What he cannot put into the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram.”
Let’s be clear: the man was an occultist. His followers found him abusive, angry, and manipulative. He was also an alleged womanizer of his own pupils.
Oscar Ichazo (1931-2020) is next. He was also interested in esoteric wisdom, traveling and studying religions throughout the Far East. Ichazo overlaid nine different personality types over the nine-pointed shape, which is the enneagram used today. He claimed to have received this wisdom while communicating with either Michael the archangel, the Green Qu’ Tub, or Metatron, the prince of the archangels, while under a hallucinogenic. The accounts vary.
Although Ichazo insisted that he came about the enneagram independently of Gurdjieff, he attended a school in Buenos Aires, which taught Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way.
Lastly, Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019) was a psychiatrist who was interested in joining Western psychology with Eastern religions. He attended lectures given by Ichazo and went on to study at his school in Argentina. He brought back the teaching of the enneagram to the United States in his own school of esoteric wisdom “Seekers After Truth”. Some of his pupils, chiefly Robert Ochs, introduced the “Enneagram of Personality” to the American Catholic community and beyond.
For some, simply knowing this history may be enough to put them off the enneagram. But for my Christian friends who use and like it, I submit these thoughts in love:
Q: What’s wrong with using the Enneagram system, as long as I don’t buy into the weird mystical stuff?
A: Satan doesn’t do free samples. He deals in contracts and trades.
In Genesis 3 when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin, he led with the promises, and hid the price tag. In Matthew 4:8 we see that Satan owned the “kingdoms of the world and their splendor”. I wonder where he picked those up. When you use the enneagram, Satan doesn’t care if you know about the fine print. He may not even extract the price from you. It could be your kids, or your grandkids. You cannot “opt out” of the weird mystical stuff. You didn’t write the contract.
Q: Why shouldn’t I use something that helps me better understand myself?
A: The enneagram is a form of flattery. If you are being flattered, you are being deceived.
I didn’t think of that, my brother did. But if you look through scripture you can see flattery always pairs well with deception, like fried and chicken.
Psalm 36:2 “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”
How is the enneagram flattery? It explains our favorite subject: us! We love to know about ourselves, why we act certain ways, and why things annoy us. We even find our weaknesses fascinating. Any invitation to elite, special, or hidden knowledge like this flatters the soul.
Flattery leads to deception by obscuring truth, most importantly, the truth of our need for God. Self-discovery is not the beginning of wisdom. God hides true wisdom in Himself, so that we find it by finding Him. Wisdom from any other source cuts you off from God.
Q: I have found the enneagram helpful in understanding other people. Isn’t there value in that?
A: The enneagram is a lens. A lens is meant to warp your vision.
What the enneagram offers is a way of seeing the world. It frames how you view yourself, your friends and family, and the way you live. As a Christian, we already have a way of living. His name is Jesus. He is THE way. We shouldn't need another lens.
It is a sad critique that people find modern Christianity so impotent they have to punch it up with cultic accessories. Maybe we’re doing it wrong.
That is not to say the enneagram is meaningless. Pharaoh’s sorcerers could do some of Moses’ miracles. The Babylonian magicians must have been somewhat useful to their king. God always bested them by miles.
The Bible does have something to say about the different gifts of individuals. It does help explain how we are designed, our motivations, and most importantly how we relate to God.
More to come.
I encourage you to do your own research on the enneagram's history. Here are the sources from which I drew my conclusions: