The symbols that were used to transmit ideas belonging to objective knowledge included diagrams of the fundamental laws of the universe and they not only transmitted the knowledge itself but showed also the way to it. [1]

~ G.I. Gurdjieff

As with any great adventure, it’s good to have some kind of map. Without one, we are in danger of falling into disorienting depths for which we are unprepared or distorting the work for purposes that serve our singular egos, and not our souls and communities. At the same time, since a symbol is a dynamic expression of knowledge that can be interpreted from many perspectives, my version of this map (woven from diverse disciplines) is just one possible vision. And the map is not the territory anyway, so consider all of this as food for reflection and sustenance on your own journey, which is, in the end, the only way one can truly understand.

In October of 2018, when I was first conceptualizing this work, I made a big map on my wall of the Enneagram Symbol with all the puzzle pieces of a lifetime’s worth of related study, reflection, and experience laid out around it. I’ll never forget the moment when my younger daughter (then 18), who has always had this other-worldly intelligence, said to me: “Mom, you collapsed time and space in that symbol.” At that moment I sensed the scope of what we are working with in the Enneagram Symbol, and what Gurdjieff meant by saying (in the chapter heading quote above): a symbol not only transmits objective knowledge (such as the fundamental laws of the Universe), but also shows the way to it.

The Enneagram Symbol is a map for transforming ourselves, in accordance with the laws of creation and renewal, into a “vehicle” of higher being-consciousness that can help reveal the Unity underlying the diversity of life, in service of evolving humanity. Gurdjieff’s statement about the Symbol “showing the way” struck me as an important clue. He drew the Enneagram in a distinct fashion. While we can trace the universal laws through various disciplines and myths as far back as earliest recorded history, our modern Enneagram Symbol seems to be original. There were previous versions of an enneagram or enneagon drawn with three closed equilateral triangles instead of the hexad figure. Later in his career, David Daniels was using this version of the Symbol to teach about three “harmony triads” revealing hidden connections between centers of intelligence that could help people grow beyond personality type.[2]

David’s name for the triads is fitting because the diagram drawn in this way was used as a representation of “the harmony of the spheres,” in reference to cosmology, long before Gurdjieff was born. Early versions of this enneagram referred to ideas reaching back to the Greek scholar Pythagoras and other ancient philosophers who used music and math to explain the cosmos. As the depiction of a universal process connecting humanity with Divinity, through nine virtues and three layers or spheres of being that created a kind of “ladder” to the Infinite, the ideas conveyed in this diagram are surely related to Gurdjieff’s teaching. But why the different drawing of the Symbol?

As we reflect on Gurdjieff’s version of the Symbol with its unique hexad shape that leaves the opening or Void between points 4 and 5, what becomes clear is that his hexad figure is a kind of broken-open hexagram (two intersecting, equilateral triangles). Moving from Gurdjieff’s form of the symbol to the one with three triangles is a matter of simply re-routing two lines to close the triangles. Just that gives us a sense of movement, and maybe a plan, embedded in his design. Perhaps we are meant to create or restore the harmonious structure of the three triangles? Or take it apart? Or both?

Two Pathways

And if the Symbol shows the way to the realization of a harmonious whole, we are left with another question posed by Gurdjieff’s symbol that we considered in part one of this book: Why is the Law of Seven, the Law of World Maintenance, depicted with the hexad figure and described with the musical octave and pathway around the Symbol? At first pass, this leaves us in a bit of a quandary: which path should we follow for growth and realization?

Oscar Ichazo, the first person to place specific ego drives and higher qualities around the Enneagram Symbol, and a man well-versed in diverse wisdom traditions, stated that he could find most everything from Gurdjieff’s teaching within ancient Greek philosophy, particularly stoicism. This includes the Enneagram Symbol itself, which Ichazo claims is a “pure form” (an archetype from the realm of objective knowledge) and a “key” to the knowledge of universal processes. Ichazo uses a number of these symbols in his teaching that he calls “Pythagorean seals.” He writes that in reading these keys the outside movement is to be considered “constructive and progressive,” while the inside movement is “destructive and regressive.”[3] Should we ignore the arrow lines then? Not so fast. As with all things Enneagram, it seems clear by now that the true transformational journey is one that integrates opposing currents.

[1] Ouspensky, ISOM, 430.

[2] David N. Daniels, “Working with the Enneagram Harmony Triads: A Key to the Development and Integration,” Written 2019.

[3] Oscar Ichazo, “Letter to the Transpersonal Community,” Written 1991.

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: