Locating Essence: Virtues, ‘Holy Ideas’ and Centres

One of the more interesting parts of the enneagram, in my opinion anyway, is the transformational aspect – the idea of an understanding of type leading away from being limited by it. Hence, here I thought I would discuss some of the various branches of the enneagram in regard to their concepts of types having different ‘virtues’, ‘holy ideas’, or the equivalent.
Here I’m looking at the underlying theory rather than an exact type-by-type breakdown, with a particular focus on any contradictions so as to try to see what seems to hold together most plausibly. Any criticisms are well-meant, i.e. moving toward finding and resolving contradictions so that the system can grow.
This area is a really especially difficult one to investigate; while passions are on the surface, other aspects are in the depths as potentials or ideals. How the numbers are seen to relate to their essence is also understood differently – original models focus on growing out of or overcoming fixed points of view, whereas perhaps there’s an increasing tendency to create or describe ‘virtues’ based on what types are instead just normally good at (which original authors would probably have seen as encouraging ‘false ego’).

As a number of the theories of essence etc. tie back to theoretical models of how ‘centres’ work, maybe we need to begin with a discussion of ‘centres’. Part of the question here is ‘if we distinguish personality from essence as different things, where is personality located in terms of centres, as opposed to where essence is?’ (…so when I say this article is about ‘finding essence’… I mean literal mapping of where its supposed to be, in hypothetical metaphysical space).


A Primer on the Fourth Way’s original ideas of centres

To begin with we could start with the the Fourth Way conception of centres, as its appears to be the direct or indirect source for a lot of theory here (the Arica school denies a lot of a direct connection, and Ichazo does have a huge background across many spiritual systems, but also has an incentive to downplay any connection in the context of his legal dispute over usage of / credit for the Enneagram).

The Fourth Way views centres as separate ‘minds’ which control specific domains of activity – depending on how finely these are defined, there are said to be between 3 and 7 centers. The three main categories would be ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’ and ‘moving/instinctive’; the last are sometimes classed as two separate centres (‘moving’ which controls physical movements, and instinctive which includes physiological functions and also ‘sensations’ – vision, hearing, and smell, as well as touch etc.).
There are also three higher centres – the Higher Thinking Centre, the Higher Emotional Centre and the Sex Centre. The higher emotional and thinking centres are dormant in normal people; the sex centre can also be considered to be part of the moving/instinctive.
In the detailed model, the normal person therefore has 5 centers (thinking, feeling, instinctive, moving, sexual) out of potentially 7.
Connecting the higher centres is said to occur via fixing the lower centres e.g. it is suggested that negative emotions in the lower-emotional centre waste energy that should power the higher emotional, based on complex ‘food diagrams’.
The Fourth Way theorizes that people tend to be strongest in one centre, underdeveloped in the second and rudimentary in the third, with development of all three being the objective of his ‘School for Harmonious Development’ and categorized people by dominant centre as being ‘man number one’ (either moving or instinctive), ‘man number two’ (emotional) or ‘man number three’ (intellectual). Orage at least (maybe others) sometimes expanded this out to a 27-‘type’ system where strength of centres could be rated 1-3 for each centre (3-3-3 perfect athlete-saint-genius, 3-2-1 instinctive in first place strongest then feeling in second spot then thinking, 1-2-3 thinking then feeling then instinctive, etc). The different centres have different desires and inclinations, so one dominates but there are basically ‘three men’ in each person (the thinking, feeling and moving), which rarely agree.
(A good description of the centres generally from a Fourth Way view is in ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, by Gurdjieff’s pupil Ouspensky).

Gurdjieff used the enneagram as a description of process, but not the full modern 9 psychology types, based off Ichazo’s work (as transmitted via Naranjo) – hence a lot of direct mapping here is speculative, though generally it is seen as mapping 891 – moving/instinctive, 234 – emotional, 567 – intellectual.
Each centre also has subdivisions – e.g. one theoretical breakdown being mapped out by Nicoll in his commentaries (see previous post), and further elaborated in Kathleen Speeth’s “The Gurdjieff Work” – with each having a mechanical/moving part which works automatically, an emotional part engaged by interest, and an intellectual part which requires direct attention to work.


The Fourth Way’s concept of Essence

The Fourth Way has an interesting (if dark) view; his system is generally about transformation but not aimed at any type-specific attributes since it predates type. “Essence” in his system is the term for the real inner part of the person, as opposed to an artificial outer ‘personality’ layer consisting of ideas or feelings internalized from society or the environment. (in a modern context, types could be said to be ‘types of personality’); both being necessary for self-development, despite essence being more real. In his view essence varies between having just an ‘inner child’ to being more fully developed, and could be developed by reducing the pressure of personality on it.

Locating essence in his model: Coming back to the fairly specific question of where ideas are, centres-wise:
Parts of his ideas could be taken to mean that ‘essence’ relates to the ’emotional centre’ whereas ‘personality’ is part of the intellectual centre. For example, in ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ he talks about ‘dead people’ whose essence has died while ‘their physical body and their personality are still alive’; parallel to this, Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” talks about the ‘three brains’ (centres) running down separately. Orage as related in transcripts of meeting notes (linked last post), puts essence in the ‘moving part of the emotional centre’. Making this more complicated, however, negative emotions are viewed as being ‘artificial’ i.e. acquired and using energy which should instead by spent in generating positive emotions. He also says that “a man’s ‘real I’ is his essence grown up, mature” but “real I” is said to be a property of ‘man number five’, that being the level in his system at which the ‘higher emotional centre’ is said to work. He also notes that people ‘act, think and FEEL’ (emphasis mine) by means of buffers; that as well as his ‘experiment’ in the book seem to show that feelings can be a part of personality, regardless of where ‘essence’ actually is. With personality shut down temporarily a man “full of the most varied and exalted ideas, full of sympathies and antipathies, love, hatred, attachments, patriotism, habits, tastes, desires, convictions, suddenly proves quite empty, without thoughts, without feelings, without convictions, without views.”

Specific psychological attributes in the Fourth Way system include conscience, self-consciousness, objective-consciousness, will, a “real I”, individuality (possibly the same as ‘real I’; noted as implying control of emotions), inner freedom, love, hope, faith, shame (separate to conscience), ‘sane-logical-mentation’, and ‘doing’ (this last maybe similar to will, though implying also a conscious direction); some of these could be said to be more mental or instinctive rather than feeling qualities, though these could perhaps also be said to be in some ways parts of essence; some are suggested to require work across multiple centres.



Ichazo’s ideas are fairly complicated and I don’t have full access to them. On one hand, he speaks of what we’d call the triads as relating to particular instincts – conservation 891, [interpersonal] relational 234, and adaptation 567, and so each having a ‘centre’ in his ‘letter to the transpersonal community’.

However, when he talks about passion/fixation of types – at least, I believe this is him rather than Naranjo – he talks about types as existing across multiple centres; each number has a ‘Fixation’ and a ‘Passion’ – the fixation is an attitude or worldview that’s part of the lower thinking centre, which is then supported by or generates a particular emotion in the lower feeling centre. For example, a 5 has a fixation of ‘Stinginess’ (withholding themselves from the world), supported by a passion of ‘Greed’ (storing up stuff to avoid a need for re-engaging directly or trying to avoid feeling empty). Similarly other types often have quite similar pairings of mental Fixations/emotional Passions like Resentment/Anger, Melancholy/Envy.

Trying to understand and tackle our attitudes underlying particular feelings seems a valid approach to attempting to work with them [an idea Ouspensky touches on – struggling with attitudes to hopefully modify later emotions]. Ichazo’s descriptions of fixation/passion are often quite nebulous in their differentiation, however, so in spite of this, to my mind, it seems peculiar to say those ‘thoughts’ are truly in a different centre, rather than being say a part of the structure of feeling itself (or of whichever centres -other centres also having ’emotional parts’ to them, in a Fourth Way view).

As well as that, the concept of a type existing in [lower mental + lower emotional] seems to conflict with the triad structure where a type exists primarily in Instinctive 891, in Feeling 234, or in Thinking 567. Can we say a 2 or 4 is primarily feeling-centred when every type has a feeling, even if that’s ‘Vengeance’ or ‘Greed’ ?

As the counterpart of the passion and fixation, each type then has both a ‘Virtue’ and a ‘Holy Idea’; whereas the former exist in the lower mental and lower emotional centers, these are then part of the these are part of the ‘Higher Emotional’ and ‘Higher Mental’ centres respectively.
I would particularly view the ‘holy ideas’ for One, Two and Seven as being correct or relevant “as is”, since it seems that people of the relevant ‘types’ with absolutely no exposure to the enneagram refer to those names/ideas anyway, by free association or part of their intrinsic makeup – see e.g. ‘case study’ articles for those types. Others ideas (like ‘hope’ or ‘love’) are used too frequently for this to be definitive or useful in identification. For a couple of points, a ‘virtue’ that seems reasonable seems to cover for a ‘holy idea’ that’s slightly peculiar [e.g. at 9 ‘Indolence’ opposes ‘Love’, then there’s a virtue of ‘Right Action’ which seems to be more directly opposed to Indolence]

In modern theories, Russ Hudson’s views on the “Virtues” seem to be similar to Ichazo’s virtues IIRC, with these redefined or adjusted and largely replacing the ‘Holy Ideas’ as they were. IMHO this is somewhat justifiable in some cases (given that Ichazo’s fixations/ideas sometimes don’t reflect things that make sense as dichotomies or at least require quite idiosyncratic definitions), though some are (as noted above) pretty good as-is. I believe he would again view the Virtues as being part of the ‘Higher Emotional Centre’.

The Narrative Tradition (Palmer) also I believe still speaks of the Virtue and Holy Idea from Arica to some extent – see next.


The Narrative Tradition view

The narrative tradition has some interesting ideas in that its ideas to some extent seem to support a different view of how essence works, contradicting the view that ‘holy ideas’ are necessarily part of the ‘higher emotional’ centre, at least if we assume that this is relatively ‘far’ for normal people.

In her book ‘The Enneagram’, Palmer talks about essence (the ‘holy idea’ being one aspect of essence) and would note that: “that we are searching for an aspect of essence is motivated by its absence [emphasis mine]. For example, fear means we are missing the essential aspect of courage”.
[this example would presumably relate to her ‘6’ orientation; other examples she gives of essential experience, such as is remembered from early childhood, would be ‘when I was happy’ or ‘when I was open to love’.
I think this idea of essence as something that’s buried or disconnected from, and therefore something that the type has problems around or is specifically bad at, is critically important for understanding how the types work.

The corollary of this, of course, is that if a type is built around disconnection from a particular quality of essence, then conversely other types do have that essence, at least to some extent. (Evolving then is, somewhat depressingly, about figuring out or ‘moving on’ with regards to things that other people worked out long ago or never had issues with; this is something that might seem frustrating, but then other people/types still have their own different problems).

Anyway, in an overall centres framework, people having access to most of the virtues, implies these are are not then part of a ‘higher’ centre, which most people don’t have access to. To reconcile that, we have to either move the virtues to the ‘lower’ centres, admit that people do have some degree of access to ‘higher’ centres naturally (meaning they’re not really ‘higher’), or disagree with and instead see virtues as type-specific extraordinary abilities, beyond those normal people have. (Or disagree that virtues are a thing and stick to using the enneagram purely as a classification system).


The Healing Tradition view

The Healing Tradition (Hurley-Dobson) is in some ways interesting in that (from earlier books), it works just with the lower centres, allocating each type a preferred centre, support centre and repressed centre – it being no accident that this is in line with Gurdjieff’s ideas (although the mapping by type itself is speculative).
The Healing Tradition seems fairly good as a general developmental model, though in terms of actual naming/defining ‘virtues’ it gets weird in that it considers ‘hope, faith and love’ to be the energies of particular repressed centres, e.g. love being damaged in aggressive types 378, hope in 459, or faith in 126.
Speaking comparatively across enneagram literature this disagrees with a few models e.g.:
a) In Gurdjieff’s work generally, ‘conscious’ hope faith and love are viewed as being actually the product of 3 centers in tandem, not a single centre – see for example Peter O’Hanrahan’s “love in three centres” as an interesting elaboration of that idea. (Applying that literally to find types with “love problems”, which I am doing in the interest of debating Hurley-Donson’s ideas rather than because I actually want to suggest this may be a tenable view in its own right, is that this should give 3 types with impairments in romance, commitment or sexuality respectively, with these problems being from three different centres rather than characteristics of one, shared centre).

b) Disregarding this and comparing instead to Ichazo, he allocates those as three of his ‘holy ideas’ (=3 specific types rather than covering all 9). I would disagree with most of Ichazo’s allocations (viewing him as overly influenced by a need to put the three ‘theological virtues’ – hope, faith, charity or love – on the inner triangle, mirroring the 7 deadly sins around the outside), but in any case note that only one point in the Narrative Tradition overlaps to the same concept in Ichazo (6, “Faith”).
c) We could consider that its overly simple since there are lots of different feelings and things, such that a centre should have more than one main ‘export’
d)The other issue in this view is one of internal consistency; having multiple types have the same repressed centre, and/or similar dominant centres, seems to undermine the differences between the types (Though they would still differ as to dominant centre, I suppose). Someone who lost ‘faith in themselves and in others’ is apparently a 6, although these are also apparently the individual issues for ‘1s’ and ‘2s’ who each miss just one of those things, but in this case, what is the difference between a 6 and a 1w2/2w1?
How ‘wings’ work generally here seems not so well explained by this model of centre functioning- given that adjacent types are already structurally quite similar.
The Healing Tradition also has a centre-based integration model which differs somewhat from the traditional inner diagram of movement along connecting lines, in that it views types as wanting to first integrate/absorb the 3 types of the Hornevian group corresponding to its hypothetical repressed centre e.g. a 5 needing to go to 3, 7, and 8 to be more active.

Its repressed-centre model can also be contrasted with some aspects of the Narrative Tradition view (separate to what’s already above): Palmer et. al would consider 2,3,4 to be the types that are collectively “out of touch with real feeling” due to taking on other’s feelings (2), suspending feelings to operate in a role (3), or adopt a dramatic persona (4).(I’m not sure presence of extra “synthetic” feelings necessarily also means disconnection from real feelings, though there are similarities here to Gurdjieff’s ideas on artificial or negative feelings in ways).
The Narrative Tradition wouldn’t generalize that to other centres, however e.g. 5,6,7 aren’t said to be repressing mental centre in the same way.

Overall, its interesting to note it predicts 234 problems with feeling, rather than 378 (Dobson) or probably 1-3-5 based on Jung inferior Fi/Fe/? (see later).



I’m not familiar with Sandra Maitri’s work except in passing, but this is another view I think I should mention in trying to give an overview. She I believe uses the enneagram inner diagram and sees each type as having an essence ‘soul child’ corresponding to the ‘direction of integration’ of the point (8 for 5s, 6 for 3s, etc.), as well as a ‘missing piece’ that’s corresponds to what each most needs to learn (direction of disintegration) – e.g. 3s learning to relax from 9, 6s to have 3 self-esteem, or 9 to learn self-reliance from 6.
While interesting, it leans heavily on the inner diagram which is one of the parts of the enneagram which is least supported (e.g. Naranjo invented but now doesn’t support the directional arrows) or understood.

(By contrast, I’d considered the idea the integration lines mean the order functions are fixed in – a similar idea I think being floated by Riso. For example, a 1 moving to 7 ‘fixes’ 7 first and develops ‘holy work’, or a 4 moves to 1 first, etc. – in this view some of a types’ capabilities may innately derive from the integration point. In this view however, each type’s “missing piece” is unique to itself – the last integration point for a 9 is 9 again or “high 9”, not any other point. However, the main issue with this idea is that while ‘stress’ or disintegration would work normally, a move to ‘integration’ or ‘security’ means in many ways becoming the opposite of the normal type at that point – say an 8 moving to high-2 wouldn’t be becoming more altruistic but gaining Freedom (i.e. not caring about anyone else’s opinions).



Almaas is another specific author who I somewhat regret skipping over, except that I’m largely unaware of his enneagram work (I have only one of the earlier “diamond heart” books which is interesting in talking about ‘holes’ in essence and various qualities of essence, but non-type-specifically). In due fairness I should mention him, however.


Jung & the MBTI [speculations by the author]

Jung’s types like extraverted feeling, extraverted intuitive, etc. in his typology each have an ‘inferior function’ which is opposite to the main function – e.g. introverted rather than extraverted, and switching thinking/feeling and intuition/sensation. So an Fe-dominant has Ti inferior, a Ti dominant has Fe inferior, etc. This is something I’ve gone on about elsewhere.
One opinion is that there’s no correlation – e.g. the enneagram being about motivation, or at a more ‘spiritual’ level, whereas ‘functions’ are psychological – but there would seem to be an overlap somewhere around the space of ‘centres’ – can one be a feeling-type and repress or not have a feeling centre? […though the Narrative Tradition theory says yes].

Comparing this against the enneagram, there are some points where we might see a mapping between say Jung and e.g. Ichazo’s model of ‘holy ideas’; this however starts to become a problem if people of different functions occupy the same ‘type’ since they would have different ‘inferior functions’ and so should have different ‘holy ideas’.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, following on from Jung, fairly often predicts different dominant functions for people of various types, but is fraught with various issues (I’ve gone into my POV on this elsewhere here, e.g. see the first article on S/N mismeasurement).
In general, the Jungian view is interesting since its one of opposition between lower centres – an intuitive is losing some access to sensation which a normal sensate has, for example.
Compared to other models, then, there’s some similarity to Hurley-Dobson’s where there’s likewise said to be repression of ‘lower centres’, except that ‘functions’ seem to be more narrowly defined i.g. parts of centres rather than full centres.
As I’d sort of talked about elsewhere, compared to Hurley-Dobson, the Jungian view gives similar results for several ‘types’ as to repressed centres. However, it would would probably support 1 [generally extravert-thinking] and 5 [generally introvert-thinking] as inferior-feeling types IMHO – [Nearly all enneagram theories agree that ‘3’ is a type with feeling difficulties of some sort, which would give a pattern of 1-3-5, the ‘competency groups’ as those having repression of some part of feeling centre]; while literature is somewhat split on whether 5s have generally more problems regarding feeling (detachment, isolation, etc.) or with ‘doing’; comparatively though, 7s would definitely map as having some degree of feeling in MBTI.

Other Jungian Ideas on development: As a side note, I should mention that as well as ideas following from the idea of an inferior function, Jung also talks about a ‘self’ archetype which is between and controls/commands the other functions. (There are maybe some parallels between this and the concept of a “unified I” in the Fourth Way; Ouspensky for example at some point notes that consciousness isn’t specifically generated by one centre, but is generated by multiple centres working together under the control of the “I”).


Effective Implications of Where The Virtues Are?

Practically speaking, viewing virtues as part of the lower centres adds more weight to the idea that balanced development of all three centres is ideally the path toward growth.
Whether ‘virtues’ are seen as ‘missing piece’ development vs. some sort of ‘extra power’ changes our view of what ‘evolved’ people are – which view we choose also sets limits on what a ‘virtue’ can be. A ‘virtues as lower centres’ idea means holy ideas can only be purely human abilities, albeit that an ‘evolved’ person would be using all of their potential and may be working generally beyond what others can, by being able to do feats that may engage multiple aspects of essence. A 5 won’t get any smarter and a 3 won’t be able to work any harder; development instead meaning expanding in other directions.
I’m particularly interested in connecting the ‘holy ideas’ and the ‘repressed centres’ models, using the theory that each ‘idea’ refers not to the whole centre but a particular part of the centre. A lower centre model lets us potentially pinpoint the correct ‘virtues’ of types handed down by tradition, and reality-check what goes where based on e.g. asking ‘is this virtue a feeling function’ or ‘is this virtue an instinctive function’, etc. By contrast, a theory where several sorts of essence all potentially exist in a higher space, allows for any concept to relate to any type.


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