The ‘Secret’ Origins of the Enneagram—Revealed!

The Enneagram of Personality has been captivating communities of seekers for decades now, and seems to have only become more popular in recent years. But a fair amount of confusion persists, about just what it iswhere it comes from, and how to work with it as a powerful tool of transformation, rather than just another way to pigeon-hole ourselves.

Enter my friend and colleague Dr. Jerome Lubbe, a functional neurologist and co-founder of Thrive NeuroTheology. Jerome has written and designed a beautifully-illustrated, ground-breaking coffee-table style book on the neurology of the Enneagram, called The Brain-Based Enneagram: You are not a Number. He’s nearly sold out of his third print run; you can secure your copy here.

I was privileged to co-write the following essay for Whole-Identity. Jerome graciously gave me permission to share it with you here in its entirety. Enjoy!

A Brief History of the Enneagram and its Influences
By John Luckovitch and Mike Morrell

The Enneagram is an enigmatic nine-pointed symbol that represents the interaction of energies within a process. It illustrates the relationship between the essential character of a phenomenon and how this character is expressed in sequential stages through time. Today, the Enneagram is most widely recognized and taught as a system of character types that draws from ancient wisdom traditions and insights from modern psychology.

The history of the Enneagram is complex, and in tracing it’s lineage, it becomes clear that the Enneagram had many different expressions and stages in its evolution. The current usage and understanding of the Enneagram began with the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949), an equally enigmatic teacher who was born in the city of Kars in modern-day Turkey close to the Silk Road, where he was influenced by a variety of traditions East and West, later setting out to seek schools of inner wisdom. According to Gurdjieff, he found such wisdom, still preserved in several millennia-old orders and brotherhoods who trace their own roots back to ancient Egypt.

After some years, Gurdjieff began to teach in Russia, Europe, and the United States. It was Gurdjieff’s claim that human beings are ‘asleep’ to their full expression of spirit, will, and being, and that a great many forces – external and internal – conspire to keep us this way. The good news is that waking up is possible, but they keys to our awakening lie in the development of our attention and fostering the right relationship between our Essence, our spiritual core, and our personality.

For this awakening to happen, he said, the three centers of understanding and perception in human beings had to be awakened and functioning properly, rather than left to the disorganized state of the average person. These centers are the body, the heart, and the mind. Gurdjieff recognized that many traditional spiritual paths typically emphasized the development of one of these three centers at the expense of the other two. The way of the fakir or ascetic was an attempt to overcome identification with the body. The way of the monk could be seen in devotional monastic paths, such as the Eastern Orthodox monastic orders and Sufi Dervish orders he observed, emphasizing a singular focus on the heart center. Paths which disciplined attention and understanding, such as Indian Yogis and Zen monks, cultivated the mind. Further, most expressions of these three paths require that one give up their life as a ‘householder’ or regular participator in work, family, and society, instead retreating from the world to live in solitude or a spiritual order. Gurdjieff called his work the Fourth Way because he sought means of developing all three centers, and within the conditions of daily life.

The Enneagram was taught by Gurdjieff as a ‘universal hieroglyph’ of this Fourth Way, symbolizing the joining together and interaction of what Gurdjieff called the Law of One, the Law of Three, and the Law of Seven. These laws are seen as universal, finding representation in nearly every spiritual tradition worldwide. 

The Law of One is, simply, that everything emerges from one source. The Law of Three, reflected by innumerable trinities in spiritual traditions worldwide, describes how any whole phenomenon manifests in three aspects: an active, passive, and reconciling force. The Law of Seven represents process and draws from the same principles as the musical octave. It describes how the ‘One,’ represented in three elements, finds expression in stages through time. For Gurdjieff, the Enneagram wasn’t a conceptual tool but a living dynamic system which he illustrated in human movement through sacred dances drawn from Sufi, Tibetan, and other sources, choreographed by Mr. Gurdjieff with aid from his collaborator, the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956). 

The teachings of Gurdjieff are complex and had many stages of evolution through different periods of his life and as his own understanding deepened. Gurdjieff never taught the Enneagram as a personality system, and for many who study the Gurdjieff Work, the modern Enneagram of Personality is considered derivative or even a tool used to reinforce identification with the personality rather than expanding one’s ability to see beyond it. 

The Enneagram would take another evolutionary leap forward through the efforts of the Bolivian-born, Peruvian-raised teacher Oscar Ichazo (born 1931). Drawing from Gurdjieff, Ichazo combined the Enneagram, the understanding of the centers, and the dynamic between Essence and personality with his understanding of several ancient systems of understanding, including the nine extant manifestations of the Divine as ‘Sephriot’ in the esoteric Jewish Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Christian mystic Evagrius Ponticus’ early catalogue of human vices (which became the prototype of the Medieval Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues), and the work of Neoplatonists such as Plotinus (in his Enneads) and Proclus. In all, Ichazo claimed to have come up with 108 ‘Enneagons,’ which he taught in his mystical school in Arica, Chile. From these 108 Enneagons, just four make up the basics of the modern Enneagram of Personality: the Passions, the Fixations, the Virtues, and the Holy Ideas, providing an inner map for awakening Essence and seeing (in echoes of Gurdjieff) what psychological patterns keep us ‘asleep.’

Ichazo’s teachings were elaborate, but our contemporary appreciation of the Enneagram might have never occurred if it were only up his closely-guarded world: It would take a multidisciplinary student of his to free the Enneagram from its esoteric cage. 

Enter Chilean-born psychiatrist, Fulbright scholar, and student of theologian Paul Tillich, Claudio Naranjo (born 1932). Naranjo joined Arica and studied under Ichazo, streamlining Ichazo’s teachings and teaching them in North and South America, much to Ichazo’s chagrin. Naranjo expanded the application of the Enneagram’s intrapersonal wisdom to the interpersonal interactions of entire cultures in his Enneagram of Society. Naranjo’s work and teaching had a direct influence on many of the modern innovators and teachers of the Enneagram of Personality, including Helen Palmer and Diamond Approach founder A.H. Almaas. One of Naranjo’s students, Jesuit Robert Ochs, taught the Enneagram in Christian communities, inspiring the likes of Richard Rohr and Don Riso. Russ Hudson, a student of the Gurdjieff Work, connected with Hudson in the late 1980s and together brought the Enneagram to a new vista of visibility, also serving as a bridge between different senses and uses of the Enneagram in its various ‘schools.’

Contemporary Enneagram teachers continue to broaden its impact in psychological, spiritual, educational and organizational domains. The introduction you hold in your hands builds on the work of these pioneering and adapting geniuses, with a particular focus on how contemporary brain science challenges and validates the emergent Enneagram model.  

More on Whole-Identity Enneagram:

Do you want the opportunity to flourish, to grow, and be the best possible version of yourself? While we are all unique and distinct individuals, often requiring specialized resources for healing and improvement, every single human on the planet has at least one thing in common that drives the process of our becoming wholly well: A brain.

This is no small thing we share in. Our development, our decision-making, our thoughts, emotions, actions, and on and on—all reside primarily in the brain. Though our unique, lived experiences shape us differently, we operate within the same system. If we understand how the universal operating system works, we can function with greater success.

The Whole-Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagram Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving places the traditional Enneagram of Personality beneath the lens of neuroscience. Dr. Jerome D. Lubbe introduces an unparalleled, science-based method to view our identity through a truly unique model—The Brain-Based Enneagram.

Filled with comprehensive, neuroscience-driven opportunities to utilize the Enneagram with fresh perspective and insight, this book will:

  • Reshape your understanding of the Enneagram to a Whole-Identity Profile instead of a single-number personality “type”.
  • Expand your capacity for growth and health in a multitude of directions
  • Provide practical applications for each nature for greater personal, relational, and global thriving

Neuroscience and the Enneagram are two pieces of the same puzzle, and they serve a powerful function when paired together. Dr. Jerome has made his science-based model approachable and accessible to engage the reader from concept to practical application and beyond.

This beautiful, fully-illustrated book has sold out twice, and it’s now in its third printing. If you want to experience the Enneagram like never before, check out The Brain-Based Enneagram here.

Dr. Jerome D. Lubbe is the owner and clinician at Thrive Neuro Health in Atlanta, where he specializes in childhood development disorders, movement disorders, brain injury rehab, and more. His ultimate pursuit of aiding people in optimizing their physical, mental, and emotional health for the purpose of spiritual well-being has led him to develop content that marries the fields of neuroscience and spirituality into NeuroTheology. You can check out his clinical and coaching work at Thrive HumanCare, and his Enneagram work at


Want Another Fresh Look at the Enneagram? Introducing wearable Enneagram art.

I’ve teamed up with a renowned fine artist to bring you unique Enneagram jewelry, because I was tired of seeing the only Enneagram ‘merch’ out there being high on ‘kitsch’ and low on dignity, and elegance. I wanted to create encapsulations of this symbol that convey its dynamism and gravity, pieces that I’d be proud to wear, myself. I’m really happy with how this initial line came out—and if you end up liking it too, we’ll craft more.

What do you think? If these resonate, find the design that’s right for you, and let it be a reminder of your commitment to growth, transformation, and flourishing. To see the entire line, visit us at



  1. Bruce Lee and the Enneagram - Right Livelihood Quest - December 9, 2019

    […] The Enneagram (of Personality, as it is sometimes called too) is a complex psycho-spiritual map that points to nine distinct personality types often called “fixations” which, when properly understood, can illuminate a myriad of unconscious behaviours and motivations operating within us that are keeping us stuck in repeating patterns and habits. While in the past, each of the 9 types had a word associated with it (Helper, Loyalist, Individualist, etc), most current teachers move away from the words, and simply use numbers from 1 to 9. When we can see these fixations for what they are, we can begin to de-identify from these predictable, unhealthy patterns of personality and ultimately connect with something far more real, essential and expansive within us. The history of the Enneagram is quite ancient, and involves George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo, and quite a few more recent teachers and authors. There is a good description of it here. […]

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