The word “mafia,” Sicilian in origin, is synonymous with Italy, but Italy is home to several different mafias, with three being particularly notorious. While the Cosa Nostra of western Sicily is the most infamous, other powerful groups include the ferocious ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria and the Camorra, the third-largest mafia, which is active in Naples and the Campania region. A “mafia” is loosely defined as a criminal organization that is interested in social, economic and political power, combining elements of a traditional secret society with those of a business, but further levels of nuance are necessary in order to understand these groups. In a general sense, this is because each mafia creates a myth about the development of the organization, which becomes like an unquestionable truth. In essence, part of what makes its members so completely loyal to it is also what makes outsiders so utterly afraid of it.
While all three mafias have initiation rituals dating to the 19th century, the oldest of the three belongs to the Camorra. The rituals date back to 1850, as the Camorra was taking shape in the prisons of southern Italy. In this simple but profound ritual, the new member was told to take an oath over crossed knives and then made to have a dagger fight with another man (either another possible initiate or a current member). However, the blades would be wrapped leaving just the point exposed, so that the only objective would be to draw a faint trace of blood, after which the fight would end. This ritual ceased in 1912, around the time that the Neapolitan Honored Society dissolved itself, and as it reconstituted itself in various formations over the course of the century, it never again returned to those more antiquated rituals. Instead, the group began to exist more as a loose network of criminals, all working for their own enrichment.