Mafia Families have been around for centuries, and are believed to have originated in their modern form in Sicily, Italy. The term gets applied to numerous syndicate organizations, not just the organizations that actually identify as a Mafia Family. Mafia Families are generally involved in protection rackets, loan-sharking, drug trafficking, and fraud.
North American Mafia Families are comprised of “made men” – those that are actually officially recognized as a member of the Family. Those that are made men are treated with a degree of respect and notifies other criminals that any harm against a made man will be met with retaliation.
At the top of a Mafia Family are the Boss (also known as a Don or “Godfather”), Underboss, and Consigliere. These three positions are atop the Caporegimes (Captains), who manage individual gangs. Below the caporegime are soldiers (also called soldati, singular soldato), who make up the bulk of the Family. Finally there are Associates, who are not actually made men, but rather people that work with the Family and is often where prospective mobsters show their worth.
Often times an entire region of Families are united by a Commission, who helps to arbitrate conflicts and make overarching decisions for a region.
The initiation ritual is composed of portions of Roman Catholic and Masonic ceremonies. The man of honor is led into a room full of bosses and underbosses. One of these men then pricks the initiate’s arm or hand and instruct the initiate to smear the blood onto a sacred image, usually a saint. The oath of loyalty is then taken as the image is burned and the ashes scattered, thus symbolising the annihilation of traitors.
A hit or murder of a made man must be approved by the leadership of his family, or retaliatory action is demanded. Bypassing this protection of a made man has often led to war.
One of the most popularly known rituals of the Mafia is the code of Omerta. Omerta requires that the oath-taker refuses to cooperate with authorities, and refuse to rely upon the services of an authority, even when the victim of a crime. Additionally, the oath-taker must avoid interfering in the business of others. If convicted of a crime, the oath-taker is to serve the sentence without speaking to authorities, even to defend oneself.