The Enneagram
Compiled by Bruce Sabalaskey


The Enneagram is a popular New Age tool which has found its way into Catholic practices, including parish classes and in retreat programs. This article is a short summarized compilation of four authors who have studied the Enneagram. They are Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., Msgr. William Smith, Dorothy Ranaghan, and Rick Kephart. See the excellent references for details.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a circular diagram on which personality types numbered one through nine are symbolically represented at nine equidistant points on the circumference. The numbers are then connected by arrows in significant patterns which point the way to health ("integration") or to neurosis ("disintegration"). Each human personality is said to fall into one of these nine types. This number is said to reveal the hidden motivation for everything a person does. Intelligence is given three centers: thought, emotion, and instinct, which are always imbalanced. The result of this imbalance is that a person's "true self" is always hidden beneath a "false self". The Enneagram is supposed to enable a person to gain knowledge of his true self, exposing the true motivations for actions and illusions developed regarding himself and regarding how to deal with the world. Msgr. Smith says:

"Each of the nine personality types (numbered 1 through 9) is described negatively by some compulsion, fixation, or basic driving force to avoid something unpleasant. This compulsion is seen as one's basic psychological orientation. To discover your number, you have to realize what you seek to avoid, what your compulsion is."

The personality types and the animals symbolizing them are:

Personality Type Related Animal
1. Perfectionist terrier
2. Care Giver cat
3. Achiever peacock
4. Artist basset hound
5. Observer fox
6. Team Player rabbit
7. Optimist monkey
8. Competitor rhinoceros
9. Peacemaker elephant

Essentially the Enneagram is an occult and Gnostic pagan self-centered system.

More and more frequently the Enneagram is sold as a " modern psychological method" to make one "more effective in dealing with others." The "spiritual" connection is downplayed and the secular "business value" is emphasized. With modern "scientific" principles espoused, who could argue with wanting "self-improvement?"

Origin of the Enneagram

First, the Enneagram is derived from a groups called the Sufis, who are a mystical offshoot of Muslims that follow various pagan spiritualities, as will be described. Two non-Catholic men, George Gurdjieff and Oscar Ichazo, were primarily responsible for bringing this system into Western culture in modern times.

Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. says the following:

"The Enneagram, from the Greek ennea (nine) and gram (line  drawing), is a system of classifying personality types based on the figure of a circle with nine points on it, [each] connected by lines.  Each point stands for an ego-type that has its own distinctive vice and  virtue. Each can get worse by moving against the arrow."

"I was taught the Enneagram in 1972 while a student in the Jesuit theologate. We used it in our spiritual and social life. But we noticed we were typing people incorrectly, and interest faded. "In the '80s, I saw an Enneagram industry develop, but the  versions being taught were contradictory. So I did research. The  Enneagram is supposed to be ancient Sufi wisdom, thousands of years old. But the Sufis, who are Muslim mystics, aren't that old of a movement. The diagram itself can't be older than the 14th or 15th century. It was discovered in the 1890s in Central Asia by a Greek-Armenian occultist named George Gurdjieff. He got it from a secret brotherhood of Sufis called the Naqshbandi, who were using it for numerological fortune-telling. Gurdjieff, a charlatan and a swindler who was into gnosticism, taught it to his disciples as a symbol of the cosmos. Gurdjieff died in 1949 but left followers. Oscar Ichazo, a Chilean who claimed to have had out-of-body experiences since childhood and studied all sorts of psychic practices, learned the Enneagram from such a group."

"In the 1960s, Ichazo devised a personality system of nine types -- each with its animal totem -- matched to the Enneagram. Esalen Institute psychologist Claudio Naranjo, another admirer of Gurdjieff, collaborated with him. Naranjo spread the Enneagram through Esalen classes."

Dorothy Ranaghan confirms the background. About Sufis she writes:

"There is much in the zeal, devotion and asceticism of Sufis that is admirable. Yet, in contrast to the contemplation and the yearning for holiness of the Muslim mystics of former ages, contemporary Sufism, which claims over 40 million adherents, has become a mix of pantheism, magic and rationalism with a belief in telepathy [ calling it projecting "baraka"], teleportation, foreknowledge, transmigration of souls and a denial of a personal God."

Dorothy Ranaghan further confirms that George Gurdjieff was the man primarily responsible for transmitting the Enneagram into the West. He was also into occult practices in a major way, which influenced the present day New Age movement:

"[Gurdjieff's writings are] filled with descriptions of planetary influences, astral bodies, clairvoyant and telepathic experiments, and with explanations of the true significance of occult interests such as 'kundalini' and the Tarot."

For Gurdjieff, the Enneagram had secret powers not particularly allied to personality typology. "The Enneagram is a universal symbol," Gurdjieff believed. "All knowledge can be included in the Enneagram and with the help of the Enneagram it can be interpreted."

Lastly, Fr. Pacwa writes about Oscar Ichazo:

"The occult also influenced Oscar Ichazo's life and writings. At age six he began having out-of-body experiences, which led to his disillusionment with the Church. He could not accept Catholic teachings on Heaven or hell since he had been there and knew more about it than Christ and the Church. Later he learned that living in one's ego was the real hell. To gain control of his own consciousness, he studied Oriental martial arts, Zen, Andes Indian thought, psychedelic drugs, shamanism, yoga, hypnotism and psychology. He joined esoteric groups in Bolivia and Argentina and traveled to Hong Kong, India and Tibet to study mysticism." [5]

Compatibility with Catholicism

Authentic Catholic study of self is rooted in becoming holy, that is conforming as best as possible to Jesus Christ our Savior. While the Enneagram focuses on "self-improvement" via human understanding, the Catholic focuses on his or her littleness, weakness and total dependence on God's Grace. Catholic "self-improvement" means "intimate union with Christ" - the more in union we are with Him the more holy we are. In other words, dying to self, decreasing so that God may increase within us. The support and action of God via His Grace is totally missing from the Enneagram. Great spiritual works by St. John of the Cross (Ascent of Mt. Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul) emphasize properly the top place that God has in our "self-improvement" towards holiness. The Enneagram is totally self-centered - that is based on pure human ego. As with other dissenter systems, holiness is also completely absent from the Enneagram, which instead focuses on ego and compulsions. Also noticeably absent is the need for the Sacraments of the Church on the path to holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly tells us:

CCC #2013 "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity." [Lumen Gentium 40 2] All are called to holiness: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Mt 5:48]

In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that ... doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints. [Lumen Gentium 40 2]

CCC #2014  Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

The origin of the Enneagram certainly does not come from Catholic sources. Besides its occult roots, the Enneagram is built upon pagan beliefs. Therefore, like horoscopes, the Enneagram is absolutely incompatible with the Catholic Faith.

Father Pacwa says:

"I have two criticisms [of Enneagram]. First, it's theological nonsense, suffused with Gnostic ideas. For instance, the nine points of the Enneagram are called the "nine faces of God," which become nine demons turned upside down. No one should speak that way. . . . And the way the Enneagram is taught is Pelagian -- self-salvation through a man-made technique, not by God's grace."

"Secondly, this is a psychological system that hasn't been tested by professional psychologists. We have no independent evidence that it's true. As a result, Enneagram experts -- who aren't necessarily aware of the occult aspects -- are making up descriptions as they go along. It's irresponsible to pass this off as true."

Msgr. William Smith in [3] states similarly:

"The basic premise of the Enneagram is that there are nine and only nine personality types; this is simply given as true, it is nowhere demonstrated as proven. To my knowledge, there are no scientific studies to determine whether Enneagram theory can be integrated with other typologies; but that would not really bother some advocates one way or the other... The more you read about it, the more it begins to resemble a college-educated horoscope; and that is not compatible with Catholic doctrine or practice. ...."

"As a tool for spiritual direction, it seems to me most deficient, even dangerous. The Enneagram is really built on a theology (?)-perhaps ideology-of self-renewal and self-regeneration that is a far cry from (perhaps contradiction of) the Gospel teaching: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit' (John 12:24)"

Ranaghan also observes that Christian proponents of the Enneagram encourage practitioners to deny their Christian standards to deal with their problems. Promoting sin to obtain so-called "self-improvement" is the exact opposite of Catholic teaching. Holiness, the Catholic "self-improvement," is based on removal of sin from our lives.

"Progress in the Enneagram seems to be movement from one sin type to another sin type.  Persons who are 2s (the 'nervous breakdowns' in the world) need, according to Sister Mary Helen Kelley, to 'come to conscious selfishness' for redemption. Sister Barbara Metz states that 'to come to wholeness . . . the 6 (the loyalist) needs to walk into the darkness of deviance and disobedience.'"

Deceptive Vocabulary

Enneagram terminology sounds Christian, but really is not. This is the same tactic that dissenters have used today, whereby a word's meaning was twisted to sound proper to deceive the reader. Ranaghan observes:

"Redemption, for example, does not mean, among Sufis, the saving action of God in our lives, but 'return from ignorance.' The very worst thing, according to Sufi doctrine, is 'not sin, but ignorance.' All Gnosticism flows from this premise."

Kephart offers a more detailed analysis exposing the pagan mimicking of the Catholic Faith:

Catholics using the Enneagram talk about things like saints and sin and faith and "fruits of the spirit". Using these words makes it sound legitimate. But they are only adapting these terms to the Enneagram, by giving them different definitions.

The word "saint" is used in the Sufi religion, but can have an entirely different meaning. It has nothing whatever to do with holiness. A Sufi "saint" ("wali") is a person who is illuminated to Reality. This is the word used in the Enneagram (even by Catholics): a "saint" is a person who overcomes his false self and knows and acts according to his true self.

The word "sin" is used a lot, but with a new definition. Sin is not a deliberate transgression of God's law. The word is redefined into personality traits that separate people from God or their real selves. Sin is the sinister motivation everybody has for everything they do, a part of human personality. It must be accepted and brought under control. The number assigned to a person by the Enneagram indicates what their one "root sin" is and will always be. "Sin" is also called "addiction".

"Original Sin" has nothing to do with Adam and Eve. Their "Original Sin" is a psychological condition, meaning that a person is never at any time in his life undamaged or free, but is always exposed to harmful forces. It describes the conditions in the environment which cause the imbalance among the three intelligence centers.

Another term used in the Enneagram is "fruits of the spirit". These have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. In the Enneagram, the fruits of the spirit are good inclinations a person gets according to his number in the Enneagram. The "Holy Spirit" according to the Enneagram is not a Person at all: He is a synonym for "power" or "energy" in Enneagram spirituality (unlike the Father and Son, who are recognized as real persons).

"Prayer" is talked about as part of the Enneagram, but their definition of prayer has nothing to do with God: prayer is absorbing elements from the environment into oneself, or projecting oneself into the environment, or delving into Nothingness. "Redemption" in the Enneagram has nothing whatever to do with Christ. It is the same as maturity, which is what they call freedom from one's "false self" to one's "true self". This true self is also called the "soul", another redefined word. Even "Heaven" is given a new definition: it is only a symbol for the perfection of freedom from one's false self to one's true self.

Two other terms which are given new definitions according to the Enneagram are "faith" and "obedience". According to their definitions, a person cannot have true faith unless he has doubts. A person cannot be truly obedient unless he refuses if he disagrees; in fact, in the very act of defiance, a person is being truly obedient according to the Enneagram's definition of obedience.


The Enneagram has found a home in many Catholic places, both in parishes and retreat centers. Many religious support and teach the Enneagram. Unfortunately, as we learn from Church history, being religious does not prevent a person from following falling away from the Faith (apostasy) or following error (e.g. heresy) - in fact many Bishops have started heresies in the past.

Best would be to follow the advice of Pope John Paul II  who said on Nov. 1st, 1982: "Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)." The Enneagram, an occult pagan tool, is focused on self and therefore leads us away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Have nothing to do with the Enneagram.


"Catholics and the New Age," Fr. Mitch Pacwa. See especially chapter 4 "Tell Me Who I Am, O Enneagram!" and Chapter 5 "Occult Roots of the Enneagram."
"A Closer Look at the Enneagram," Dorothy Ranaghan.
"Homiletic & Pastoral Review," March, 1993 issue, Msgr. William Smith.
"The Enneagram versus the Catholic Church," Rick Kephart 1994.
"A Conversation about Ego Destruction with Oscar Ichazo," Sam Keen in Psychology Today, July 1973.

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