3-de-Constructing the Enneagram

The enneagram is an intriguing symbol. It was introduced to the world by George Gurdjieff in the 1920’s. Since then, it has rippled throughout the world in various ways. Gurdjieff himself described it quite a bit in his writings in a veiled method. His followers had far more to say, and there are many books written with many passages on the peculiarities and application of the symbol.

As we progress we are going to use some of the language Gurdjieff used to describe the parts and functions. Not to emphasize the adherence to Gurdjieff’s system, but to save energy. Gurdjieff and his followers went to great lengths to describe these things in English, and rather than reinvent the wheel let’s use their inventions for they’re well made. This will also enable easier understanding of any research you may choose to make on your own, since our language and definitions will match, for the most part

The first thing one will most likely notice about the ennegram is that it has that “triangle in a circle” as the central device. This circumscribed triangle is everywhere from ancient alchemic text of the 14th century all the way up to current pop culture.

1-The law of One and the octave

An octave is what the entire circle represents. In essence ANYTHING that is, is an octave in and of itself. The octave can be said to describe anything and everything life can throw at us. In the writings we have from Gurdjieff speeches, he used a few different words to describe the octave at different levels. Cosmos, worlds, octaves. The meanings are no different in their usage, but the different words come in handy when we start discussing worlds within cosmos comprised of different octaves. Rather than saying the octaves within the octave within the octave… Which is confusingly redundant.

an octave as a circle and a line

Octave means the same thing as world and cosmos but usually octave is getting used when there’s philosophical discussions. Octave is a very handy word to use for describing the enneagram itself and discussing how it works.

All three words are interchangeable, and I will often use them interchangeably. For no reason other than to discriminate between the different levels of scale within a particular octave that I may be discussing.

2-Levels of scale

Every octave is comprised of three separate worlds that are each individual unto themselves but for the most part could not exist without the others.

For instance

all retail and service stores need a back of the house or storeroom, a sales floor to display the products on, and a service department to sell the product and ensure the customer satisfaction.

In a restaurant

there’s a kitchen staff, a dining room staff, and then a management staff

In the enneagram and in the philosophers Stone these three separate worlds are depicted by the addition of a triangle to the circle.

3-The Law of Three or the philosopher stone

The law of Three should seem familiar to just about everybody. The concept of the Trinity is buried in nearly every religion on Earth. Theology aside, humanity appears to have a tendency to break things down into three. Aristotle wasn’t the first but his observations in his work Rhetoric, brought the concept of the law of three out of  the speculations and implied that it’s a human condition or a function of nature.

By and large it seems Aristotle was right. Whether because it’s true or it’s just the way I see it, things are almost always coming at us in threes. The Earth is composed of land, sea, and air. Birth, life, and death. Beginning, middle, end. Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock are what the Earth is composed of. Newton had three laws of motion. There are even three laws of inertia…. I could probably write an entire blog just about things that come in threes… Interestingly I could not do the same with other numbers. Numbers like 7, 9, 5, and 12 will definitely get a pretty good list underneath them, but nothing will ever compare with the list one could make of things that come in threes

The Law of Three assumes that ALL things are composed of three separate but inter-related worlds. The Law of Three resting inside of the octave divides our octave into three separate worlds. These worlds define the form of the thing the symbol is about.

Gurdjieffs Three Minds

For the first example to describe this figure, we are going to dip our toe into Gurdjieff’s take on the psyche.

In this categorization of our thoughts, the thoughts are delineated as thinking, moving, and emotional. This is a most elegant ontological description of how we operate on the inside.

Thinking thoughts - are the thoughts we use to reason, imagine, think, and feel with. Thinking thoughts are the thoughts that we typically label as "thinking"
Moving thoughts - are thoughts that are by and large mechanical in nature. There are moving thoughts that are learned thoughts that have evolved from emotion and thinking, things like habits and political and religious beliefs and other cultural programing. There are also moving thoughts that bubble down from the emotional thoughts, think of emotions we create such as jealousy, embarrassment, prejudice.
Emotional thoughts - are the basic building blocks of thoughts. They tend to be very simple. But very powerful thought complexes. Love and religious ecstasies depression and hatred are typically expressions of these thoughts.

A Little Essay

Let’s make a philosopher stone that describes an octave of an essay.

Each world within the octave is assigned: introduction, body, and conclusion.

Each world is its own separate part, but it really cannot exist without the other two. Any two of these worlds are not comprised of enough stuff to complete the whole essay. An octave requires each of its three parts to be fully functioning to complete itself.

Building Octaves

An octave can be separated into three in many different ways. If our octave described a building for instance. We can describe our building by each floor; first, second, and third. We can describe our building by tenants, maintenance, and property management. We could separate it by businesses there may be manufacturing, retailing and sales in the building.

An octave describes a living thing not just a thing. A building may just be a bunch of cement, but it has a life. Just ask an architect or an engineer who repairs or builds such structures and maintains them. They will tell you a building breaths and grows and shrinks. They are not the most conscious thing around, but a building has a life.

As soon as we put the Law of Three inside the octave we are talking about something that is alive. A really good story will drag a person into the story itself, the story takes on a life of its own. We become enthralled in the story and identify with things that are in the story. Usually this does not happen. Usually, we read a story or watch a movie and we are always aware we are reading or watching, we are not drawn in. The writing is not alive. This is a story that doesn’t not fit in to the basic structure of storytelling. In literature there is actually a device referred to as the Rule of Three, in addition to the basic structure beginning middle and end


The triangle and the circle together in their most basic sense describe the laws of causality.

Causality is the laws of cause and effect. In the theory of cause and effect there should be an unending series of causes and effects that go from this moment back to the beginning of everything. A single cause that set all into motion, all the way back to our big bang.

A symbol like the yin yang explains cause and effect eloquently. The cause and effect in this manner is an endless repetition. By adding the third force we can describe endless changes.

Each of the points on the triangle represents a shock that takes place in relationship to that which we are observing. The most fundamental aspects of each shock is whether it is automatic or intentional. We typically assign a yin yang, or positive negative sign to each point.

Causality seems a very simple concept to most. Causality is in large part how we perceive life as happening, from event to event. Sometimes, or maybe all the time, we don’t even notice the time in between. When we think back, we typically recall the events, the rest just vanishes.

5-Space Time

For something to happen it has to happen somewhere. After something happens somewhere it is only a matter of time before the next thing happens afterwards…and poof there is time and space. As soon as we apply specific events to parts of our triangle the entire symbol now reflects space and time. Our triangle represents events that are happening in series, our octave is now in motion a living thing going through the changes the events will bring about.

By applying the Law of Three to the octave the octave is now a spiral that is ascending or descending. This can go on forever as the octave receives new shocks from the events at 3,6, and 9. In a quite literal way way the symbol can now represent a living thing. This is such an important thing to understand about the philosopher stone in its most basic sense. The philosopher stone is always rotating. It is grinding away in perfect pace with the life it was drawn to represent. The law of three shows us the structure of something as it interacts and evolves in space and time.

6-The law of Seven

The six-pointed figure that weaves between the philosopher stone is the Law of Seven. The figure is properly read by following the arrows, 142857.

This figure shows us the character of the octave. While the law of three shows us the structure of the octave the law of seven depicts the relationships between those three parts. These are like lines of communication between the three worlds within the octave, that need to be open and functioning properly to allow the octave to unfold and evolve fully.

To get a grip on this we’re going to look at how we think. Let’s see if we can link up 142857 inside of the octaves 3,6, and 9.

7 Cross Communication Between Worlds

Let’s take our octave and separate it into worlds one two and three, by creating the philosopher’s Stone. And then we set our 142857 shape over that. And as we draw in that shape think of it as communication from one world to the next.

It shows us that there isn’t really free communication between all three worlds. 142 are connected on one side 857 are connected on the other. The only way world’s A and C can communicate is by sending messages to B and hoping it passes through. The connection from 2 to 8 and 7 to 1 cross each other. They go from such a high level to such a low level and they cross lines so that the information does not come through well.

Anytime we complete a project and we think back to how our results don’t really look the way we originally planned.. we’re seeing an example of this in action. Our imagination couldn’t approach what the final thing was going to be.. our imagination at 1 and 2 was much better equipped at gauging what it would be at point four.

8 Law of Tenfoldness

There is a knack to learning to see the law of one, the law of three, and the law of seven at the same time. These three things combined into the symbol is much like an artist using foreground midground and background in their painting. Standing too close or too far away makes one of those areas stand out. But by finding the proper position all three blend together into a homogeneous whole that expresses the concept.

Learning the mechanics of the symbol is not as complicated as mastering and understanding of the thing one is trying to represent with the symbol. That is to say if you don’t understand the thing that you’re trying to describe with your enneagram, you won’t be able to do it. Someone who is better or has more understanding of the subject matter will be able put it in the enneagram in a more masterful way.

If this symbol was used for nothing more than to gauge ones understanding of the subject at hand. Then this would still be a very powerful tool. There’s no shortage of people who think they know something, who if they just tried to plug what they know into the symbol would quickly discover they only know half of what they thought they knew.