Posted by on July 5, 2013 | Comments Off on Stackings

The Stackings


The Instinctual stackings are a set of hierarchies made up of the three Instinctual Variants arranged according to their six possible orderings of predominance:







These are typically abbreviated by indicating only the first two Instincts, since the latter is a foregone conclusion.  For example, sp/sx/so becomes simply sp/sx, and so on.

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Each stacking has a unique tonality, and being able to work with the stackings for self-observation (or observation of others) requires some capacity to intuitively ingest each of their signature tones/colors/flavors.

As a starter, the below are informal suggestions for titles of each. These are presented only as imagistic impressions to convey a visceral sense of the styles:

sp/so: the land surveyor
sp/sx: the grave digger

so/sx: the strolling minstrel
so/sp: the bishop

sx/sp: the alchemist
sx/so: the chanteuse

Sample card from the ‘Enneagram Instincts Cards’, available on the Products page


Further iterations…

sp/so: farmer, patriot, businessman
sp/sx: pirate, sex trader, voodoo fetishist

so/sx: ‘regalia’, jester, the Mayor
so/sp: witch hunter, ethnic cleanser, culture warrior

sx/sp: shaman, ‘cutter’ (self-injurer), tattoo artist
sx/so: comet, flamenco dancer, shooting star

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Sample card from the ‘Enneagram Instincts Cards’

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The stackings and instincts happen to correlate rather seamlessly with aspects of the Bhavacakra, the Buddhist Wheel Of Life (or Wheel Of Becoming).

The Bhavacakra is a symbolic representation of samsara in the form of a circle, found primarily in Tibetan Buddhist art. Samsara translates as continuous movement… the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and suffering, from which one is liberated in enlightenment. This quality of perpetual motion recalls the characterization of the Instincts as a flux continually pulsing through the architecture of our Enneagram type as the lifeblood of that animates the type structure and mechanics.

The Bhavacakra is divided into six sections, each corresponding to one of the six Instinctual Variant stackings:

sx/so – The World of Devas (Gods)

so/sp – The World of Asuras (Titans)

so/sx – The World of Humans

sp/so – The World of Animals

sx/sp – The World of Pretas (Hungry Ghosts)

sp/sx – The World of Hell

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Contraflow / Synflow


From another angle, the stackings can be seen aligning into two groups, each group moving in reverse direction to the other, which is an indicator to look for some underlying opposite thematic thrust between them.  Very briefly stated, from the perspective of human interrelations, they seem to be as follows:

Flow #1 (a/k/a “synflow”): sp/so —> so/sx —> sx/sp  ::  Compelled toward people/participation/involvement 

Flow #2 (a/k/a “contraflow”): sp/sx —> sx/so —> so/sp  ::  Compelled against and/or solipsistically away from people

The usual disclaimers apply…

a) A given person’s Enneagram type will modify and integrate with these expressions — potentially altering these themes significantly —  as will your personal history and current psychological state

b) The descriptions of the characteristics of these flows won’t translate into simple literalizations of behaviors; the discussion of these opposite directions is to get at a quality of the substrate abstract ‘material’ from which these flows and their respective stackings are formed


Integrating these directionalities with the Bhavacakra associations, the magnetic alignment of Flow #1 can, again, be seen turning toward others…as their earthbound collectivist themes convey: ‘animals’, ‘humans’ and ‘hungry ghosts’…in contrast to Flow #2, the non-human non-terrestrials: ‘gods’, ‘titans’ and ‘Hell’.

Flow #1 ~ synflow stackings

sp/so (animals) = practical cooperation ~ revering the work of the harvest, the beasts of the field, the ‘fat of the land’
so/sx (humans) = multifaceted/multidirectional attraction ~ the radiant festival of the four corners of the Earth
sx/sp (hungry ghosts) = urgent bonding / ‘unfortunate’ belonging ~ the perpetually orthogonal embrace of the seeker/searcher

Deeply human, compelled toward the process of humanity.  Involved.

Capture - Copy

Flow #2 ~ contraflow stackings

sx/so (gods) = cultural revolutionary ~ attractive social catalyst, steering popular culture/the arts/the cultural zeitgeist in a new direction using potent new creative forms
so/sp (titans) = culture warrior ~ social change by force and/or eternal higher principle, the booming thundering ‘voice of God’, the loftiest educators and highest clerics
sp/sx (Hell) = acultural solipsism ~ counterculture original, underbelly exposure, smoldering mysterian, the fermenting underground, cool & detached

Outliers, antisocial, energetically autonomous, chemically provocative, reverse-flow change catalysts. On some level, successfully rejecting the human condition…their own and that of others.  Priest-gods of their own cult and eco-system.



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The Last Will Be First

The conceptualization of the Instincts as elements illuminates various characteristics of the stackings:

  • sp = earth / matter
  • sx = water / fire, (higher vibrations) ice / electricity
  • so = fresh air, wind & sunlight

One approach is to group them by twos into the blindspots that they have in common…and let the elements spin out their characteristic chemical reactions.

For example, sx/sp and sp/sx are significantly missing the Social elements of fresh air and sunlight. Looking at them there’s a kind of shrouded/hooded quality, something of a cave-dweller or a Death theme in some form (scroll back up to the stacking titles in the section just above to get a feel for it). ‹ Take away air, quickly comes Death. › The obliviousness to the collective good (Social-last) contributes to the shadowy/cloaked quality of these stackings — there’s an unintelligence about social stigma that can take people of these two stackings deep into ‘alternative’ territories. The aspect of Social that’s compelled to define people into clear roles that connect into a bigger picture is missing here. So, an upside in these two stackings is that communications can be more personal, contactful and intimate because the aura of the collective isn’t brought into one-to-one exchanges in the way it inadvertently is with those who aren’t social-last.   This friend-of-the-dark quality can translate to a capacity to work, hands on (figuratively-speaking), in the muck of psyche, and linger long in a non-judgmental attitude with other people’s ugly/corrupt underbellies and issues, potentially even spilling themselves into others’ dark sides.

sx/sp :: upward Death :: Rebirth, metamorphosis, transmogrification. Burned to death and born again, from new elements, into a body tuned to a higher vibration. Losing the self (dying) in the Other, in an upward peak of flame and ecstasy. The wet fire.

sp/sx :: downward Death :: The chthonic. The decay and destruction side of Death. Filth, disease, degradation, subversion, undertow. Archetypally, among other things, this stacking rules the rotting churn of carcasses perpetually recycling into Earth, fertilizing and feeding the flora and fauna who, in turn, produce more bodies destined for decay to feed the swampy muck, the dirt, the festering ooze. This is Hell…molten fire (sx) encapsulated in the Earth’s core (sp); a pressure-cooker effect. A smoldering-volcano quality here. A swelling threat of rage eruption.

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The two self-preservation-lasts, sx/so and so/sx, steer clear of the earth element, which itself has a significant amount of dull weight, a bland stuckness,  a ‘stick in the mud’ quality. So, by contrast, the two sp-lasts are the butterfly stackings, spinning off a considerable amount of shimmer and sparkle, as they’re unsullied by dirt (earth) and the sullen droop and hunched seriousness of self-pres’s mundane concerns. This ungrounded quality is a double-edged sword though: For others, a welcome breakup of the monotony of hardened routines that congeal around self-pres; for those under the direct influence of these two stackings, however, there’s a particular incapacitation, a signature difficulty moving forward in certain areas of life —  perpetual ‘immaturity’ on a practical level, sometimes a nomadic quality due to their characteristic ignorance around how to set firm steps and plant roots underneath their feet, or a wondering why one would even want do so.

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So/sp and sp/so are low in water and fire, hence marked by a certain sobriety, less easily led down the road of the fantastical and the addictive. There’s an arid quality here; emotionally difficult to reach on an intimate basis, especially in terms of self-revelation and exchanges around theirs and others’ messy personal underbellies; psychological nudity is much less a reflex or comfort zone for this grouping. Less likely to flash their eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, and the eye might more typically be found casting around pragmatically for resources or political advantage or established channels of cooperation or support, in contrast with Sexual’s susceptibility to impractical highs and masochistic draw toward personal injury by the juicy and the seedy. None of this is to say that people of these stackings can’t find themselves in the midst of drama and intrigue, or that they can’t be sexy — in fact, the traditional Hollywood leading man is sx-last, inspiring women of a bygone era to try to unlock the puzzle of the dry steel chest, search out the elusive (sx) trickle of a tear or passionate fiery blood coursing through the man, somewhere. Less is more, in other words.

Minimization of sx equates to a reticence in these stackings as regards marking the environment with their own personal/individual imprints; same goes for seeking out such markings in others. What can arise from this same space is a tendency toward the provincial, or the patriotic and nationalistic — some wider perspective, exclusive of the Personal. Using the elements, the native land (self-pres earth) commingles with the air (the social mores), infusing these people’s mental concept of a nation with the spirit of righteousness and loyalty to higher principles, a sense of pride in its history, a Social theme. The physical space (sp), then, becomes the natural subject of a communal protective drive. Or we might say the sx-instinct is, in some respect, driven down, sublimated into a social romance with the land, beckoning us with quasi-religious imagery of a glorious transmogrification into the Promised Land.

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NB: The elemental correlations made to the stackings & Instincts may be somewhat easily confused in their overlap with various elemental attributes inherent to certain Enneagram types. For example, Type Four, in the abstract, could be said to have an emotional wetness to it, or a habit of intensifying feelings, as if throwing gasoline on a fire — which, if we’re looking at these aspects through the elemental lens, can be misconstrued for the Sexual Instinct’s drive for ‘juice’ and the narcotic of extremes. Thus, sexual-lastness in a Four can be less easy to spot. And a sexual-first of another Type could be misconstrued as a Four, etc.





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