The purpose of the book is to help you, too, to explore the ancient wisdom handed down through the Enneagram Symbol, to apply it in your own journeys of growth, and to discover how it can help us all with personal, social, and spiritual renewal. In keeping with this, the book unfolds in three layers.

  • It is, first, a theoretical exploration of the laws of the Symbol that weaves together diverse disciplines of study to try to answer the questions: Are they really ‘universal’ laws? How do they work? How can they help us? Rather than just tell you what I have concluded, I am inviting you into the learning process, to seat yourself at different perspectives from which to discern the meaning and value of the laws.
  • Second, the book is designed to take you on a metaphorical hero’s journey around the Symbol to experience the laws, how they interact, and to explore their application to psychosocial and spiritual transformation.
  • Third, it is an attempt to integrate theory and metaphor into a developmental map, in hopes of providing signposts and sustenance along your own journeys of growth and renewal. In the end, your personal experience of the dynamics of the Symbol is required for true understanding.

And why would this sort of detailed inquiry into the Symbol matter? Given the complexity in the world—war, political unrest, global pandemic, economic and racial inequity, and natural disasters—why turn inwards and look at ourselves at all, much less take the time to reflect on ancient symbols and “universal laws,” when there is so much to be righted in the world?

The Symbol itself is a map of the transition between unity and multiplicity. It shows how diverse, even polarized, parts of any system can re-member themselves as a unified whole. As such, the Enneagram has a lot to teach us about union and communion. This is an essential ethic and agenda for our times. Many of humanity’s great teachers, both spiritual and secular, find the roots of our modern problems in how we know ourselves as separate from each other, the natural world, and All that Is—our shared Source and ground of Being. We are in need of a shared moral consciousness and pathway towards holding diversity in unity, in ourselves and within society as a whole. The Enneagram provides both, in a framework that accommodates diverse belief systems. Because it maps a universal process, knowledge of the Symbol provides a doorway into our common human experience, no matter our Enneagram type, gender, race, religion, culture, status, age, or political leaning.

Gurdjieff taught that we are all subject to the dynamic patterns of reality depicted in the Symbol. He said we are “mechanical beings,” captive to unconscious and environmental forces that operate through us and tend to divide us, within and without. We are not at all “free,” as we believe. But because these fundamental laws are universal, he said we could and should study ourselves to realize how they are expressed through us.[1] Rather than continue as naïve subjects of their influence, we can then learn to engage with the laws in doing the psychological and spiritual work that is the foundation for evolving a better world for all of us. He often referred to his method of working with the wisdom of the Enneagram Symbol as “building a soul,” which he said is not inherent in humans.

I whole-heartedly agree with the idea that inner work is an essential foundation for peace and renewal in the world. Knowing ourselves fully and gaining the capacity to be more purposeful with how we show up equips us to live lives characterized by greater kindness, contribution, and dignity, aligned with higher principles. When we are fully present, aware, and integrated, we no longer act out our unconscious issues. We are less likely to blame “the other” in the world. The “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln called them, are free to act more consciously in service of who and what we care about, to observe the consequences of our impact, and adjust as needed. And when we face and integrate the previously hidden or shadowed aspects of our own hearts, we can transform them more skillfully in the world.

                  Some of this, for sure, we can do with a right application of the Enneagram of Personality (although this is not always how it is used). Beyond that, working with the laws of the Symbol can help us envision where we are going with those development efforts, show us why inner work is important when there is so much to be done in the world, and reveal how we might do it more fruitfully together, in service to our communities and to humanity as a whole. Using the laws of the Symbol in combination with the Enneagram of Personality can not only help us map our individual and collective journeys of growth, but also can help us shape more meaningful lives—something for which many of us are hungering in today’s world.

King Arthur’s Knights, setting out on their search for the Holy Grail—a symbol of the moral and spiritual development of the soul—entered the forest at the place that was “darkest” for each of them. The Enneagram of Personality helps us find just that place. Our type is like an entry point. It can also provide guidance about our gifts, as well as what is in the way of growth at specific points on our journey; a journey as potentially transformational as that of the Knights of the Round Table. But to find our way, we need a map—of who we are and who we aren’t (yet). We need a map of the whole territory, and a plan. And wouldn’t it be best if that map were one that has worked for generations of heroes and seekers transformed by their efforts to advance healing and unity in the world?

As fate would have it, my deep dive into the Symbol coincided with a descent into a very dark period in my own life. While I had been working on “ego deconstruction” in service of spiritual and psychological maturity, it was quite another thing to have life do it for me. Finding myself in the depths of the unknown, without the familiar buffers and signposts my prior identity and commitments had provided, was profoundly difficult, humbling, and disorienting. I needed a map. And I found one in the Symbol. Its mysteries opened to me as much through dreams, meditation, inner work, and prayer, as through my studies. This gave me a thread to follow through the darkness, and it forged in me a commitment to weave all this into a guide to accompany other people on their own forays into the depths, chosen or delivered.

So if you are also on a psycho-spiritual journey and sometimes wonder where you are going and what it’s all for, this book is written for you. If you are intent on changing the world, making it a more compassionate place, and realizing the harmony and interconnectedness preached and practiced by spiritual and secular heroes from all ages, you will find guidance from the heroes we follow here. If you are passionate about the Enneagram and curious to know more about the mysteries conveyed in the Symbol, you will discover more about them through theory, metaphor, and self-reflection if you go on this journey with me. And if you don’t already know the Enneagram of Personality or your own type, you can learn more about that here too.

In fact, truth be told, despite nearly 30 years of Enneagram study, I have not been able to confidently locate myself in one type. I have officially bounced around the types on the inner triangle (9-6-3), and strangely enough, I could also see my life unfold through the pattern of the hexad figure (1-4-2-8-5-7). Needless to say, this was discouraging and embarrassing for me as a certified professional, but it also motivated me to explore and compare teachings from different Enneagram schools. In that process, I found varying descriptions of types and subtypes, disagreement about the existence (or not) of countertypes, conflicting theories about instincts, the relevance of wings (or not), and the way to work with the arrows. Even whether or not we have only one type is debated!

This incongruity further fed my desire to look under the hood and make sense of the Symbol myself. I thought if we could understand the architecture lurking beneath the typing system, we might find an impartial authority to resolve some of the differences (which people defend quite passionately) within the global Enneagram community. I had to believe there was some kind of matrix of meaning behind the manifest teachings that could clarify not only my own issues with typing, but also how the system works to give rise to the core teachings about personality. It turns out there is! And we can uncover it by peering deeply into the Enneagram Symbol itself.

Excerpted from The Enneagram Symbol: Mapping the Journey of Personal, Social, and Spiritual Evolution, used with permission.

Dr. Jennifer Joss is a psychologist by training, a coach and consultant by profession, and a Hermetic philosopher at heart. She has been involved with the evolution of people and systems for 30 years, in non-profit as well as for-profit organizations, across diverse industries. Jennifer integrates psychology and neuroscience, systems dynamics and leadership development, with the wisdom of spiritual and mythic traditions, and inner technologies that have guided people for centuries.

Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Stanford’s School of Education and graduated from Harvard with high honors in psychology. As a certified Enneagram and Enneagram in Business professional, she has used the Enneagram to help people and teams personalize learning and map transformation. Jennifer’s 30-year relationship with the Enneagram Symbol somehow lured her into a deep and life-changing exploration of its meaning which, although still unfolding, led to the 2023 book: The Enneagram Symbol: Mapping the Journey of Personal, Social, and Spiritual Evolution. Learn more about Jennifer and her work at: