Feel Better

The Spiritual Matrix: Exploring the Parallels between Otto’s Numinous and the Enneagram

Rudolf Otto’s pioneering studies on religious consciousness and the experience of the transcendent, as detailed in his classic work, “The Idea of the Holy,” has some interesting parallels to the principles underlying the Enneagram. Through Otto’s nuanced understanding of the numinous experience and its two poles, “Mysterium tremendum” and “Mysterium fascinans,” we can draw insightful connections with the nine points of the Enneagram. 

Just as Otto posits a dynamic, transcendent experience comprising two contrasting poles, the Enneagram suggests that each individual’s psyche is a matrix of positive and negative traits, strengths, and fears. This matrix determines our worldview and significantly impacts our actions and reactions.

The first pole Otto defines, the “Mysterium tremendum,” is akin to the fears, insecurities, and shortcomings inherent to each Enneagram type. It represents an overwhelming encounter with the numinous that induces feelings of dread and awe. Similarly, each Enneagram type has its set of challenges or shadows: the fear of worthlessness in Type 2, the fear of failure in Type 3, or the fear of harm or deprivation in Type 6. These fears can often dominate our consciousness and influence our behaviour, much like the numinous experience overwhelms the individual in Otto’s framework.

This is difficult to deal with as our primal instincts, developed over millennia of human evolution, and are finely attuned to recognize and react to these fears as if they were inherent truths (mysterium tremendum: fearful mysteries) rather than unconscious instinctual responses and reactions.

The second pole, the “Mysterium fascinans” (fascinating mystery) echoing the gifts, strengths, and virtues each Enneagram type possesses. It describes the numen as captivating and inviting, producing a unique spiritual joy. Similarly, each type on the Enneagram holds unique strengths and potential for growth: the ability to love unconditionally in Type 2, to achieve and inspire in Type 3, or to be reliable and hardworking in Type 6, and so on. The fascinans, like the positive traits in the Enneagram, offers an opportunity for fulfillment and joy.

Moreover, Otto’s description of the numinous experience’s heightened or mystical dimension closely relates to the concept of personal growth and transformation in the Enneagram. As Otto proposes that the numinous experience reveals our highest transcendent nature, the soul, the Enneagram suggests a journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth for each type. Otto’s characterization of the numinous as causing a propulsion towards itself reflects the Enneagram’s call for individuals to transcend their ego structures, face their shadows, and strive towards their unique paths of personal growth.

This spiritual journey it would appear, often involves integrating the positive and negative traits of our personality, much like Otto’s assertion that the two poles of the numinous experience are synthesized in the transcendent numen, not in our consciousness. This integration, in Enneagram terms, could mean finding balance between the interplay of contrasting elements within us – fear and fascination, dread and awe, challenge and potential. Understanding this duality can provide a comprehensive roadmap for personal growth and spiritual transcendence, aiding us in our quest to become more balanced, integrated, and fulfilled.