some common questions


what the heck is it?
Is it a meaningless symbol?  Is it a new-age fad?  Is it a psychological system?  Is it a spiritual tool?  Is it a message from God?

It’s not an invention; it’s a naturally determined set of mystical relationships.  Wherever there is purposive action in the universe, whether by an animal, a human, or the great Kali herself, the enneagram’s nine facets come into play.

Its origins are lost in the mist (and enthusiastically debated), but the most common story is that it was discovered and developed centuries ago, apparently by the Sufis, and passed down among the mystical students as a secret, oral teaching.  Over the centuries it seems to have been been used by the masters in several different ways, always according to the needs of the moment.  The enneagram is fundamental enough that it was bound to be discovered at some point by wise visionaries.

is it inevitable?
Each human always seems to settle into one of the nine ways of being.  There are only nine primary ways that the system of intellect, emotions, and will can work together to produce human behavior.  Are there people who are outside of the system?

A healthy human society is composed of a mixture of the nine types.  There are societies where the types are out of balance, or where one type has taken control of the social system.  Unhealthy societies can happen when the nine types become unable to communicate with each other.  How could such unhealthy societies be healed?  Would knowledge of the enneagram help them?


is it like astrology?
While both personality systems group people into distinct personality types, to me the differences between the enneagram and astrology seem much more important than their similarities.  I am not an expert on astrology, so I’m not qualified to say whether it works or not.  If it works for you, I hope you will use it and benefit.

An astrologer uses a collection of numbers (the subject’s birth information) to create a detailed description of that person’s personality and life path.  This analysis is possible without any actual contact between the subject and the astrologer.  Even computers can (and often do) produce a person’s “chart” if given the right information and program.

An enneagram guide operates in quite a different way.  The direction of information flow is different.  While the astrologer uses numbers to predict someone’s personality, the enneagram guide observes someone’s personality and uses those observations to recognize the subject’s personality type.  Having done so, the numbers are a convenient shorthand to describe what has been recognized.  While the astrologer uses the numbers to build a description, the enneagram guide observes the person directly and then recognizes the personality type, using experience with a great many people of all types.

While my enneagram type says a lot about who I am, what kind of talents I am most likely to have, and what sort of mistakes I might make, it says nothing about when I might use my talents or make these mistakes.  It doesn’t predict my life path, but it does explain the motivations behind many of the decisions I might make.  It doesn’t say anything about whether I might be successful or a total failure, but it says a lot about what sort of success or failure I am likely to become.  It leaves me completely free to choose my own path, and it provides useful insights that can help me avoid the traps and snares I might run into along the way.

is it like numerology?
Numerology is similar to astrology, except that instead of birth information it is the person’s name (or other data) that supplies the initial numbers.  As with astrology, the information flows from the numbers to a description of the person, while the enneagram works in the opposite direction.  Again, if it works for you, I hope you will use it and benefit.


do animals have enneagram types?
The enneagram’s basic principles apply to any intelligent, individuated social animal.  When there are groups of entities cooperating to achieve complex goals, selective evolution always seems to produce the enneagram’s structure of types. A pack of wolves works best when some members are bold and feisty, some are cautious and inquisitive, and some are sensitive and nurturing.

A society of intelligent beings works better when there is some degree of specialization between the members of that society. The enneagram of personality types seems to be the most natural, efficient way to portion out those variations.

Do cats have enneagram types?  What about dogs? What about lizards?
Do species as a whole have enneagram types?  (Are dogs sixes?  Are cats fours?  What type are rats?  Pigs?  Parrots?  Frogs?  Humans?)


do people ever change their type?
We manifest our enneagram type very early in life.  It does seem to be true that a person’s type is extremely stable over the course of many decades. Do we keep that precise personality type until we die?  Do I object to being pinned down to one precisely defined personality type?

The apparent permanence of enneagram types may have something to do with the way the human brain is built.  Neuroses, perceptual filters, and innate talents all seem to be related to brain wiring and chemistry.  The structure of basic personality elements becomes more or less permanent after three or four years.  Character traits are usually well enough defined by then that a clear enneagram type is visible.

When I was that young, how did it feel to be me?



Next in Enneagram 101: the basic structure

Previous in Enneagram 101: how to study the enneagram

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