where does the Enneagram come from

Where does the Enneagram come from is a question that truly doesn’t trouble me. None of us were there at the beginning, and while it might be fun to conjecture, it can also turn into a mind game. An ego trap of I’m right and you’re wrong, when really what we are looking at is so much bigger. If you read my last post, you know I’ve decided to research the origins of astrology. I’m curious if it overlaps with the Enneagram, and also just curious to learn more than the basics (i.e. you are your sun sign and that’s it).

To start, I requested just about every library book on astrology that I could get my hands on. The majority were the basic sun sign stereotypes, so back they went. But a few went deeper. And internet access means all of us can enter in our info and get a complete birth chart in just a couple seconds.

With my birth chart and reference books, I got started. And proceeded to get deeply, deeply confused. There are twelve astrological signs, twelve houses and twelve (I think?) planets. All have meaning – and all of those meanings change in relationship to each other’s placement in the chart. Whoa.

This draft included variations in each element’s color to show whether it was a cardinal, fixed, or mutable sign, on top of being fire, earth, air, or water. It wasn’t very successful.

So my first impression, based on the sheer number of conflicting influences that seem almost impossible to tease out, is that astrology is very much like the Enneagram. Not the dumbed down version where 8s are all meatheads and 4s are emo-poets. The full, you-can’t-tell-someone’s-type-based-on-behavior-because-it-is-internal-motivation-that-matters version is what interests me.

The difference, which is a doozy, is that the Enneagram is something you identify yourself. No one told me I was a 9 (well, my husband kinda guessed) . I came to that on my own. But astrology tells you exactly what you are, no choice involved. It was ordained at birth.

Maybe since I’m an Aquarius, or maybe since my Uranus is in my first house, I kind of rebel against that. (Uranus co-rules Aquarius, btw. Guess I am more rebel than I realized.) Each sign is ruled by a planet (or two). Each sign rules a house. So I’ve decided the first layer of meaning I need to untangle or just get comfortable with is the planets.

Oh, and I had to paint my chart so I could get a feel for the patterns involved. Fire, Earth, Air, Water; positive/negative; cardinal, fixed, mutable…there is a lot of terminology to learn, too. And just when I was just about fried, I remembered a website a friend had sent me months ago. This website lays out a very detailed argument for why the Enneagram is based on astrology. I don’t yet know if I agree with all of it, but it doesn’t look to be wrong. The planets, which the ancients attributed to gods and goddesses, rule the signs.

the enneagram and zodiac are both circles. doesn't prove source.
This draft is a circus tent of colors. I liked it better before I added the cardinal, fixed, mutable as purple, yellow, orange around the perimeter. Live and learn!

A recent episode of The Art of Growth podcast discussed the origins of the Enneagram. Their take? The origins can’t really be pinned down, but the Desert Fathers – a group of hermetic early Christians – are the likeliest origin in their view. Astrology surely falls under “occult” and other proposed influences (Sufi mystics? etc.) that they mentioned in passing. I know zero about the Desert Fathers. It is entirely possible the Enneagram stems from them. It is also possible that they took knowledge from the culture at the time and removed the associations that didn’t jive with their beliefs. Maybe it went from “the gods have predestined…” to “God made you this way.”

Language changes. Symbols change (side note: even the Enneagram symbol itself might not be as fixed as I thought it was according to the above podcast). The archetypes themselves are ancient. The preference to believe your life is handed to you from God, preordained, or your life is sprung out of random chaos, with infinite options, or anything in between, changes based on our culture, beliefs…and possibly the planet that rules your sun sign? Fact remains, we are here now. So, what are we going to do? Are we going to argue over the unknowable, or get out of our heads and face reality?

(Next post will likely list all the ways that I’m not fine with not knowing the roots of something because, spoiler alert – it does really, really matter! Except when it doesn’t. In the meantime I’ll be making planetary glyph charms similar to my zodiac symbols. The more the merrier, right?)