Where Did It Come From?

The origins of the Enneagram are to be found in the late 3rd century and 4th century CE, and in the establishment of the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople.

Plato’s school, the Academy, still flourished in the Empire, producing brilliant students who were matched against equally gifted writers from the embryonic Christian mystical tradition. Leading the students of the pagan Academy, was Ammonius Saccas, who taught both Christian and pagan students. It was his great fortune to have as two of his students the greatest writers of late antiquity, Plotinus and Origen. These two great and immensely talented writers were to transform the state of metaphysical philosophy in both the East and the West.

The second great influence at this time was the rise of the Christian mystical tradition in the deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine, founded by the extraordinary St Anthony of Egypt. It was Anthony, Origen and subsequent writers such as Athanatius, Evagrius, Augustine and the like, who were to have an extraordinary effect upon the platonic mysticism of the Academy.

In response to the rise of mystical Christianity, Plotinus wrote the Enneads − 9 books of Platonic mysticism, to be forever known as neo-Platonism. At about the same time, Evagrius of Pontus was collating a century of oral tradition regarding Christian mysticism from the followers of St Anthony. It was Evagrius who was to reveal that the Christian aesthetics of the Byzantine deserts had discovered that 9 passions − anger, pride, vainglory, envy, greed, incontinence, gluttony, lust and acedie, distorted human perception and consigned the human search for the divine to the banal and ordinary.

Evagrius’ works, later condemned by the churches of Rome and Constantinople, are the first written evidence of the existence of an oral tradition which identified the passions as the primary obstacle to divine union.

This oral tradition continued to develop and to synthesize the works of Origen, Evagrius, Plotinus, and Gregory of Nyssa, culminating in the Corpus Areopagiticum by the Syrian monk, Denys the Aereopogite. Denys’ corpus remains to this day the touchstone from which mystical theology in both the European West and the orthodox East continue to gain inspiration. The Enneagram has come to us from this tradition through the writings of an admirer and another Syrian, Isaac of Nineveh through the Islamic or Sufi mystical tradition. The Sufis in particular were to emphasize the rigorous practice of meditation, expert direction and personal piety along with the Enneagram to achieve extraordinary results. To understand the Enneagram in its complexity, beauty and depth, one must know where it was born and raised, and from which philosophical traditions it was conceived.

The Enneagram resurfaces in the modern West in a refined and polished form in 1904, in St Petersburg, through the teachings of Georgio Gurdgieff. Gurdgieff emphasizes his debt to the framework's refinement by Sufi mystics over a thousand years. It is not certain which route the Enneagram took to find Gurdgieff, whether it was through the existing Islamic Sufi tradition, or the Christian occidental tradition, but it still remains the case that both these traditions have their basis in the neo-Platonic mystical tradition of Denys, Evagrius, Origen, Anthony and Isaac.

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The Australian Enneagram Community (AEC) is a community based organisation that offers Panel Series, workshops, colloquiums and other opportunities throughout the year to learn about the enneagram.

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