Lecture 37 — The Enneagram

by G I Gurdjieff

Contents List:

The Symbol
Union of Three and Seven
Decimal Period
The Triangle
The Cosmic Octave
A Universal Symbol
Perpetual Motion
A Universal Language
Objective Art
Editor's Note

Return to:


See also:

Man's Place in the World
Laws and Justice
Cosmic "Chemistry" and Relativity
Human Metabolism
Hydrogens, Sex, and Centres
'Doing' and 'Not Doing'
Unity and Symbolism
Sex and Evolution
MUSIC: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages


For uniting into one whole all knowledge connected with the law of the structure of the octave, there is a certain symbol which takes the form of a circle divided into nine parts with lines connecting the nine points in the circumference in a certain order.

Before passing on to the study of the symbol itself, it is essential to understand certain aspects of the teaching which makes use of this symbol, as well as the relation of this teaching to other systems which make use of symbolical systems for the transmission of knowledge.

In order to understand the inter-relation of these teachings, it must always be remembered that the ways which lead to the cognition of unity approach it like the radii of a circle moving towards the centre; the closer they come to the centre, the closer they approach one another.

As a result of this, the theoretical statements which form the basis of one line can sometimes be explained from the point of view of statements of another line, and vice versa. For this reason it is sometimes possible to form a certain line intermediate between two adjacent lines. But in the absence of a complete knowledge and understanding of the fundamental lines, such intermediate ways may easily lead to a mixing of lines and to confusion and error.

Of the principal lines, more or less known, four can be named:

  1. The Hebraic
  2. The Egyptian
  3. The Persian
  4. The Hindu
Moreover, of the last we know only its philosophy, and of the first three, only parts of their theory.

In addition to these there are two lines known in Europe, namely theosophy and so-called Western occultism, which have resulted from a mixture of the fundamental lines. Both lines bear in themselves grains of truth, but neither of them possesses full knowledge; therefore, attempts to bring them to practical realisation give only negative results.

The Symbol

The teaching whose theory is here being set out is completely self-supporting and independent of other lines, and it has been completely unknown up to the present time. Like other lines, it makes use of the symbolical method, and one of its principal symbols is the figure which has been mentioned, that is, the circle divided into nine parts.

This symbol takes the following form:

The circle is divided into nine equal parts. Six points are connected by a figure which is symmetrical in relation to a diameter passing through the uppermost point of the divisions of the circumference. This point is also the apex of an equilateral triangle linking those points of the divisions which do not enter into the construction of the original complicated figure.

This symbol cannot be met with anywhere in the study of 'occultism', either in books or in oral transmission. It was given such significance by those who knew that they considered it necessary to keep the knowledge of it secret.

Only some hints and partial representations of it can be met with in the literature.

[In the book Etude sur les origines de la nature du Zohar by S Karppe, Paris, 1901, pp. 200-201, there is a drawing of a circle divided into nine parts:

The circle is described as follows:
"If we multiply 9 by 9, the result is shown in the number 8 on the left side and the number 1 on the right side; in the same way, 9 X 8 gives the product shown in the number 7 on the left and in number 2 on the right; exactly in the same way with 9 X 6. Beginning with 9 X 5, the order becomes reversed, that is, the number representing the units takes the left side and the number representing the tens takes the right." — PDO.]

Thus it is possible to meet with a drawing of it like this:

and another like this:

Union of Three and Seven

The symbol, which takes the form of a circle divided into nine parts with lines connecting them together, expresses the law of seven in its union with the law of three.

The octave possesses seven tones, and the eighth is a repetition of the first. Together with the two 'additional shocks' which fill the 'hiccups' or 'intervals' mi-fa and si-do, there are nine elements.

The complete construction of this symbol which connects it with a complete expression of the law of octaves is more complicated than the construction shown; but even this construction shows the inner laws of one octave and it points out a method of cognising the essential nature of a thing examined in itself.

The isolated existence of a thing or phenomenon under examination is the closed circle of an eternally returning and uninterruptedly flowing process. The circle symbolises this process. The separate points in the division of the circumference symbolise the steps of the process. The symbol as a whole is do, that is, something with an orderly and complete existence. It is a completed circle. It is the zero of our decimal system; in its inscription it represents a closed cycle. It contains within itself everything necessary for its own existence. It is isolated from its surroundings. The succession of stages in the process must be connected with the succession of the remaining numbers from 1 to 9. The presence of the ninth step, filling up the 'interval' si-do, completes the cycle — that is, it closes the circle, which begins anew at this point. The apex of the triangle closes the duality of its base, making possible the manifold forms of its manifestation in the most diverse triangles, in the same way as the point of the apex of the triangle multiplies itself infinitely in the line of its base. Therefore every beginning and completion of the cycle is situated in the apex of the triangle, in the point where the beginning and end merge, where the circle is closed, and which sounds in the endlessly flowing cycle as the two dos in the octave. But it is the ninth step that closes and again begins a cycle. Therefore in the upper point of the triangle corresponding to do stands the number 9, and among the remaining points are disposed the numbers 1 to 8.

Decimal Period

Passing on to the examination of the complicated figure inside the circle, we should understand the laws of its construction. The laws of unity are reflected in all phenomena. The decimal system is constructed on the basis of the same laws. Taking a unit as one note containing within itself a whole octave, we must divide this unit into seven unequal parts in order to arrive at the seven notes of this octave. But in the graphic representation, the inequality of the parts is not taken into account. For the construction of the diagram, there is taken first a seventh part, then two-sevenths, then three-sevenths, four-sevenths, five-sevenths, six-sevenths, and seven-sevenths. Calculating these parts in decimals, we get:

In examining the series of periodic decimals obtained, we at once see that in all except the last, the periods consist of exactly the same six digits which run in a definite sequence; so that, knowing the first digit of the period, it is possible to reconstruct the whole period in full.

If we now place on the circumference all the nine numbers from 1 to 9, and connect these numbers which are included in the period by straight lines in the same sequence in which the numbers stand in the period, according to which number we start from we shall obtain the figure found inside the circle. The numbers 3, 6, and 9 are not included in the period: they form the separate triangle — the free trinity of the symbol.

Making use of 'theosophical addition' and taking the sum of the numbers of the period, we obtain nine, that is, a whole octave. Again in each separate note, there will be included a whole octave subject to the same laws as the first. The positions of the notes will correspond to the numbers of the period and the drawing of an octave will look like the following:

The Triangle

The triangle 9-3-6, which unites into one whole the three points on the circumference not included in the period, connects together the law of seven and the law of three. The numbers 3, 6, and 9 are not included in the period; two of them, 3 and 6, correspond to the two 'hiccups' or 'intervals' in the octave; the third is, so to speak, superfluous and at the same time it replaces the fundamental note which does not enter the period. Moreover, any phenomenon which is able to act reciprocally with a phenomenon similar to it sounds as the note do in a corresponding octave. Therefore, do can emerge from its circle and enter into orderly correlation with another circle, that is, play that role in another cycle which, in the cycle under consideration, is played by the 'shocks' filling the 'intervals' in the octave. The law of three stands out, so to speak, from the law of seven; the triangle penetrates through the period, and these two figures in combination give the inner structure of the octave and its notes.

At this point in our reasoning it would be entirely right to raise the question: Why is one of the 'intervals' which is designated by the number 3 found in its right place between the notes mi and fa and the other, which is designated by the number 6, found between sol and la, when its right place is between si and do?.

If the conditions had been observed as to the appearance of the second 'interval' (6) in its own place, we should have had the following circle:

Then the nine elements of the closed cycle would have been grouped together in the following way:

The distribution we do get:

can only give the following grouping:

that is, in one case, x between mi and fa, and in the other case between sol and la, where it is not necessary.


The apparent placing of the interval in its wrong place itself shows to those who are able to read the symbol what kind of 'shock' is required for the passage of si to do.

In order to understand this, it is essential to recollect what was said about the role of 'shocks' in the process proceeding in man and in the Universe. [See Lecture 19 et. seq. — Ed.]

When we examined the application of the law of octaves to the cosmos, the step 'Sun-Earth was represented as shown in Fig. 53.

In relation to the three octaves of radiation, it was pointed out that the passage of do to si, the filling of the 'interval', takes place within the organism of the Sun. It was pointed out in the cosmic octave in relation to the 'interval' do-si that this passage is accomplished by the will of the Absolute. The passage fa-mi in the cosmic octave is accomplished mechanically with the help of a special machine which makes it possible for fa, which enters it, to acquire by a series of inner processes the characteristics of sol standing above it without changing its note — that is, as it were to accumulate the inner energy for passing independently into the next note, into mi.


Exactly the same relationship is repeated in all completed processes. In examining the processes of nutrition in the human organism and the transformation of the substances taken into the organism, we find in these processes exactly the same 'intervals' and 'shocks'.

As was pointed out before [in Lecture 22. — Ed.], man takes in three kinds of food. Each one of them is the beginning of a new octave. The second octave, that is, the air octave, joins up with the first, that is, the octave of food and drink, at the point where the first octave comes to a stop in its development at the note mi. The third octave joins up with the second at the point where the second octave comes to a stop in its development at the note mi.

But it must be understood that, just as in many chemical processes, only definite quantities of substances, exactly determined by nature, give compounds of the required quality, so in the human organism the 'three kinds of food' must be mixed in definite proportions.

The final substance in the process of the food octave is the substance si ('hydrogen' 12 in the third scale), which needs an 'additional shock' in order to pass into a new do. But as three octaves have taken part in the production of this substance, their influence is also reflected in the final result by determining its quality. The quality and quantity can be regulated by regulating the three kinds of food received by the organism. Only in the presence of a full and harmonious conformity between all three kinds of food obtained by a strengthening or weakening of the different parts of the process, is the required result obtained.

But it is essential to remember that no arbitrary attempts to regulate food (in the literal sense of the word) or breathing can lead to the desired end unless one knows exactly what one is doing and why, and what kind of result it will give.

Furthermore, even if a man were to succeed in regulating two components of the process, food and breathing, again this would not be enough, because it is still more important to know how to regulate the food of the third storey — 'impressions'.

Therefore before even thinking of influencing the inner processes in a practical way, it is essential to understand the exact mutual relationship of the substances entering the organism, the nature of the possible 'shocks', and the laws governing the transition of notes. These laws are everywhere the same. In studying man we study the cosmos; in studying the cosmos, we study man.

The Cosmic Octave

The cosmic octave 'Absolute-Moon' has, according to the law of three, been broken into three subordinate octaves. In these three octaves the cosmos is like man: the same three 'storeys', the same three 'shocks'.

Where, in the cosmic octaves of radiation, the place of the interval fa-mi appears, in the diagram are marked the 'machines' which are found there in the same way as in the human body.

The process of the transition fa-mi can be represented in the most schematic way thus:
The cosmic fa enters this machine like the food of the lower storey and begins its cycle of changes. Therefore, in the beginning, it sounds in the machine as do. The substance sol of the cosmic octave serves as the substance which enters the middle storey like the air in breathing, and helps the note fa inside the machine to pass into the note mi. This sol on entering the machine also sounds as do.

As we see from this, the following notes la, sol, fa serve as food for the machine. In the order of their succession, according to the law of three, la will be the active element, sol the neutralising, and fa the passive. The active principle reacting with the passive (that is, becoming connected with it by the help of the neutralising principle) gives a certain definite result. This is represented symbolically thus:

This symbol points out that the substance fa in being mixed with the substance la gives as a result the substance sol. As this process proceeds in the octave, developing as it were inside the note fa, it is possible to say that, without changing its pitch, fa acquires the properties of sol.

All that has been said about the octaves of radiation and about the food octaves in the human organism has a direct connection with the symbol consisting of a circle divided into nine parts. This symbol, as the expression of a perfect synthesis, contains within itself all the elements of the laws it represents, and from it can be extracted, and by its help transmitted, everything that is connected with these octaves and much else besides.

Each completed whole, each cosmos, each plant, is an enneagram. But not each of these enneagrams has an inner triangle. The inner triangle stands for the presence of higher elements, according to the scale of 'hydrogens', in the given organism. This inner triangle is possessed by such plants, for example, as hemp, poppy, hops, tea, coffee, tobacco, and many other plants which play a definite role in the life of man. The study of these plants can reveal much for us in regard to the enneagram.

A Universal Symbol

Speaking in general. it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and can be interpreted with the help of the enneagram. In this connection, only what a man is able to put into the enneagram does he actually know, that is, understand. For the man who is able to make use of it, the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and read in it the eternal laws of the Universe: and every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.

If two men who have been in different schools meet, they will draw the enneagram and with its help they will be able at once to establish which of them knows more and which, consequently, stands upon which step — that is to say, which is the elder, which is the teacher and which the pupil. The enneagram is the fundamental hieroglyph of a universal language which has as many different meanings as there are levels of men.

Perpetual Motion

The enneagram is perpetual motion, the same perpetual motion that men have sought since the remotest antiquity and which they could never find because they sought outside themselves that which was within them. They attempted to construct perpetual motion as a machine is constructed, whereas real perpetual motion is a part of another perpetual motion and cannot be created apart from it. The enneagram is a schematic diagram of perpetual motion, that is, of a machine of eternal movement. But of course it is necessary to know how to read this diagram. The understanding of this symbol and the ability to make use of it gave man very great power. It is perpetual motion and it is also the philosopher's stone of the alchemists.

The knowledge of the enneagram has for a very long time been preserved in secret and if it is now, so to speak, made available to all, it is only in an incomplete and theoretical form of which nobody could make any practical use without instruction from a man who knows.

In order to understand the enneagram it must be thought of as in motion, as moving. A motionless enneagram is a dead symbol; the living symbol moves.

It is possible to experience the enneagram by movement. The rhythm of these movements suggests the necessary ideas and maintains the necessary tension; without them, it is not possible to feel what is most important.

A Universal Language

Men have tried for a long time to invent a universal language. In this instance, as in many others, they seek something which has long since been found; yet they try to think of, or invent, something which has been known and in existence for a long time.

There exist not one but three universal languages — or, to speak more exactly, three degrees. The first degree of this language already makes it possible for people to express their own thoughts and to understand the thoughts of others in relation to things concerning which ordinary language is powerless.

Objective Art

It is sometimes thought that art represents a 'philosophical' language which some seek intellectually. But there is art and art. All ordinary talk about art is absolutely meaningless. People speak of one thing while they imply something quite different, and they have no idea whatever what they are implying. At the same time, it is quite useless to try to explain the real relationships of things to a man who does not know the A B C about himself, that is, about man.

You must first of all remember that there are two kinds of art, one quite different from the other — objective art and subjective art. All that you know, all that you call art, is subjective art — that is, something that I do not call art at all because I recognise only objective art.

To define what I call objective art is difficult: first of all, because the characteristics of objective art are normally ascribed to subjective art; and secondly, because when you happen upon objective works of art, you take them as being on the same level as subjective works of art.

I will try to make my idea clear. You say an artist creates. I say this only in connection with objective art. In relation to subjective art, I say that with him 'it is created'. You do not differentiate between these, but this is where the whole difference lies. Further, you ascribe to subjective art an invariable action: that is, you expect works of subjective art to produce the same reaction in everybody. You think, for instance, that a funeral march should provoke sad and solemn thoughts in everybody and that any dance music will provoke happy thoughts. But in actual fact, this is not so at all. Everything depends upon association. If on a day that a great misfortune happens to me I hear some lively tune for the first time, this tune will evoke in me sad and oppressive thoughts for the whole of my life afterwards. And if on a day when I am particularly happy I hear a sad tune, this tune will always evoke happy thoughts. And so with everything else.

The difference between objective art and subjective art is that in objective art, the artist does create — that is, he makes what he intended; he puts into his work whatever ideas and feelings he wants to put into it. And the action of such a work upon men is absolutely definite; they will, each of course according to his own level, receive the same ideas and the same feelings that the artist wanted to transmit to them. There can be nothing accidental either in the creation or in the impression of objective art.

In subjective art, everything is accidental. The subjective artist does not create; with him, 'it creates itself'. This means that he is in in the power of ideas, thoughts, and moods which he himself does not understand and over which he has no control. They rule him and they express themselves in one form or another. When they have accidentally taken this or that form, this form just as accidentally produces on man this or that action according to his mood, tastes, habits, the nature of the hypnosis under which he lives, and so on. There is nothing invariable; nothing is definite here. In objective art there is nothing indefinite.


I will cite music as an example. Objective music is all based on 'inner octaves'. It can obtain not only definite psychological results but also definite physical results. There can be such music as would freeze water. There can be such music as would kill a man instantaneously. The Biblical legend of the destruction of the walls of Jericho by music is precisely a legend of objective music. Plain music, no matter of what kind, will not destroy walls; but objective music can indeed do so. Not only can it destroy, but it can also build up. In the legend of Orpheus there are hints of objective music, for Orpheus used to impart knowledge by music.

Snake charmers' music in the East is an approach to objective music — of course, very primitive. Very often it is simply one note which is long drawn out, rising and falling only very little; but in this single note, 'inner octaves' are going on all the time, and melodies of 'inner octaves' which are inaudible to the ears are felt by the emotional centre. The snake hears this music — or, more strictly speaking, feels it — and he obeys it. If the same music were only a little more complicated, men would obey it.

So you see that art is not merely a language but something much bigger. If you connect what I have just said with what was said earlier about the different levels of man's being, you will understand what is said about art. Mechanical humanity consists of men number one, number two, and number three: and they, of course, can have subjective art only. Objective art requires at least flashes of objective consciousness; in order to properly understand these flashes and to make proper use of them, a great inner unity is necessary and a great control of oneself.


Whether or not astrology can be of value in association with the enneagram depends on how astrological ideas are understood. Such ideas can be of value, and they can be without value. Astrology deals with only one part of man, with his type, his essence; it does not deal with personality, with acquired qualities. If you understand this, you understand what is of value in astrology. In certain situations, every man acts according to his type.

Editor's Note

Gurdjieff placed great emphasis on the enneagram as being "in motion", and one of his chief projects was the production of a ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians, in which, as I understand it, his students danced movements which helped them to feel the inner significance of the diagram. Eurhythmy, a form of dance based on inter-relationships of geometrical shapes, is now widely practised and is said to give performers a sense of well-being.

I am unable to find any authoritative guidance as to how the student might usefully employ the enneagram to assist his or her personal development. There are, however, two beautifully produced little books which may repay study:

I am also grateful to an Internet Friend who pointed me to a website at: Rodin Aerodynamics
which readers may find interesting in connection with the enneagram and motion.