The Sopranos, Godfather & more: we've seen it play out on our screens endless times. But off-camera, things are just as complicated. From strict dress codes to diktats, here's a closer look at the world of the Mafia.
Must Abide By Hierarchy
The Cosa Nostra, translated to 'our thing,' describes the entire Sicilian Mafia organization. From the boss to below-the-belt associates, the Family consists of a strict hierarchy that must be respected.
Since the Mafia deviates from the standard law, Cosa Nostra typically consists of those with Italian or Sicilian blood and questionable morals. For a smooth Family flow, the Italian organization maintains peace and respect from within to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Boss Needs To Approve Everything
The center of Cosa Nostra in the U.S. was established in 1931 after 5 New York families became the official directors. All activities must be approved by the boss at the top of the chain. It's strictly business, and all interactions are valid for organizational purposes brought to the gangs.
Today, the 5 families are reportedly still active: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno, and Colombo families. Families assign incoming members to where they belong in the food chain. Whether they are a 'made man' or associate, it's a commitment to the Family for life.
Must Complete Specific Tasks To Join
Just because someone is perceived as a bad guy doesn't make them eligible straight away to be a cooperating member. Aspiring members must complete a series of tasks before officially becoming a part of the Family. Of course, having Italian ancestors is a must - no "ifs" or "buts."
Originally, proving some sort of Sicilian blood secured one's way into the organization. Now, future members must have Italian parents and roots. But it's not just about being Italian. Newcomers must be loyal, obedient, discrete, brave, brutal, and have dignity and intelligence. Once a part of the Family, there's no way out…
Once accepted as a member, there's only one way to welcome them into the Family: an initiation ceremony. These ceremonies are traditional and have been since 1980. All members from made men to associates are present and are carried out so the boss can reassure the new members they are entering a safe environment.
The ceremony is spiritual for symbolic reasons. New members are taking an oath to become a part of an intense lifestyle. The members' finger is pricked to draw blood, to which that drop of blood falls onto a picture of the saint, which is then lit on fire. This way, the brothers are protected from any future danger.
Introductions By Third Man
It is non-negotiable to introduce themselves to a 'friend' in the Family. These introductions must be done by a third party, also known as a third man, someone with a similar status to the made man. These greetings are done on their behalf to keep them safe from imposters, perhaps a federal agent.
When meeting a third man, there must be the same amount of respect given as if it was a made man. The Cosa Nostra values honor and loyalty, so anyone who might be a threat to the Family is immediately cut off. This way, approved newcomers know their place in the Family and how it operates for the organization's safety.
Rules Regarding Police
When it comes to business, it's strictly business. While some activities might have to involve the police force or federal agents, anything outside of this is strictly forbidden. Members can never be sure who is undercover or trying to get an inside scoop on any current job, putting the Family at risk.
There are no loose lips allowed. Anyone who betrays the Family will face the consequences. However, this rule weakened throughout history. Former American associate Henry Hill was removed after repeatedly revealing his identity and inside politics. Consequential death was overruled to avoid further legal action against the Family.
Never Look At The Wives
They must have eyes for their wives and their wives only. It's considered a friendly warning. The Mafia typically talk in code, where 'friends' is code for Family, and 'look' is code for covet. Working through life in code makes things whole less complicated for the gang. Only they know what they're talking about.
As seen in all the famous gangster movies, like The Godfather or Pulp Fiction, it's typically known that the mobsters like to have one wife and one girlfriend on the side. But, this is Hollywood old-school talking. In the real Mafia world, infidelity and respect are taken seriously - Family men must never look at their friends' wives.
Just For Work or Not At All
Who doesn't enjoy a family gathering at the best local bar or restaurant? It's the best way to sit down and properly discuss life, events, and of course, business. Sit-downs are a crucial part of MOB life, but unlike the films where it shows gatherings in public places, this is banned.
Whenever there is a meeting, this automatically calls for a 'sit down.' However, unless a member owns the bar or club, or if the arrangement is beneficial or approved by the entire Family, it is only then that members are allowed to be at the public venue. Wherever it may be, the 'sit down' must take place somewhere, altogether.
A 24/7 Job
This is an organization with committed members like never seen before. No one is ever not on call - and the boss needs his made men to be there. It does not matter if it is a life or death situation. To put it simply: when the boss calls, the members run.
It is a given that once a member is a member, it is a lifestyle that they must tailor to. Nothing else matters. It might be hard to digest at first, but any other priorities went out the window since they took an oath. Throughout the day and night, it is a duty to be available to the Family 24/7, 52 weeks of the year.
Once a made man or associate is called up for duty, it's all about time management because punctuality matters. No one should ever keep the boss waiting. There are also no excuses when it comes to tardiness. Tracing back to the previous rule, attending to the boss's orders is the priority.
When there is an appointment, nothing else matters. As it's all about respect, and that doubles when it comes to attending a session with the Family. The boss doesn't have time for nonsense as the job will always run on a tight schedule. So members must not mess it up.
Happy Wife, Happy Life
In a world of Martin Scorsese MOB fiction, made men or associates don't mind acting up when it comes to family. Whether it's fleeing from their wives for another girlfriend, lying, or disobeying all the rules, this is, unfortunately, an utterly false reality. Just take a look at Goodfella's Henry Hill.
In the real world, men have nothing but the utmost respect for the MOB wives. They are to worship them and remain loyal, faithful, and honest. However, this oath can relate to the fact they are under the radar, and no one wants any legal trouble in or out of the Family. So keep the relationship clean. Happy wife, happy life. Right?
There's nothing more ironic than a secret criminal organization that values honesty more than their lives. It's one of the given rules. All lips must be kept sealed once an official member. It's one of the most valued rules and one of the original rules.
Although the organization is one of the most suspicious ones to this day, within the Family, it's all about honesty. But this honesty is different, as it plays at their own risk and not benefit. If any Family member asks a made man or associate for information, they must spill the beans.
Following the Money
Sure, schemes and stealing likely occur every now and then - but that is forbidden if it's within the Family. Once the Family collects their share from an inside job, that is a percentage of what they own. Taking money from the Family is simply not permitted.
Each of the five families within the organization owns its percentage of money from activities. This way, conflict is avoided when it comes to paying the price. Though everything relates to trust, made men and associates must be patient to be awarded more extensive paychecks after proving their loyalty and commitment to the job.
As hard as it might be to digest, due to tradition, there are stringent rules regarding who can apply as a member. Only men apply to the organization, and all official members and associates are men. There are no exceptions. The criteria for joining the organization are pretty broad.
It is prohibited for anyone who might have blood or close relations to the police force to join. What sets this application back from any other typical job is that all applicants are more attractive when they display delinquent behavior and immoral living.
Italian Family Tree
Don't even think about lying or finding a way into the Family. Unless there is true Italian blood, there's not even the slightest chance of becoming a member. Think of the Mafia as 'Italian by design' - otherwise, the organization in itself likely wouldn't make sense.
The organization's origins prioritize provenance and trace back to Sicilian Mafia history. Conceptions derive from Italian and other European immigrants keen to pursue and re-gain justice in society, escaping their poor lifestyle. Formed in the 19th Century, the Family gained power within itself.
Think of the made men as masters. What is asked must be obeyed, no questions asked. It is within the family code to avoid any arguments - everything must go as planned. With that being said, everyone is a yes man and might face the consequences upon acting otherwise.
Every member of the organization must take their role seriously. Otherwise, they are simply not fit for the job. The organization runs on obedience and loyalty. Without it, it would turn into shambles. Rules are broken at the risk of immediate exclusion... or even worse.
No Second Chances
All applicants must undergo a series of stages when becoming a member. There is only one rule: to pass with perfection - not a foot, action, or hand out of line. Each process must be done with integrity and confidence. As they see it, who wants a wimp of an associate?
No matter how battered and bruised they may get, it all comes down to satisfaction. And don't think family members are immediately in. These jobs don't just go out to anyone with a good resume. If the tasks are not performed to a standard, it's all over, and they're cut. As said, failure is not an option.
Okay, so they've passed all the tests and think they have reached the end. All tasks required were done top-notch. Right? Wrong. It's all about family, remember? Once all requests have been made in the membership process, it then comes down to the Family vote.
Each Family member has the right to veto or approve the newcomer. It's almost as if all the grueling, long hours of tasks meant nothing because it's all down to whether they fit in with the Family. If it's a no, it's a "see you never," as that applicant can never try again.
Silence Is Golden
Silence is more than a rule. It's a serious business and must be worked every day to maintain this type of loyalty to the Family. It's almost as if it is a required job that is a given daily. The men know too much, and it is dangerous for anyone to say a peep unless asked by the boss.
This is a rule that all made men, associates, and any other member of the mafia hierarchy must follow. But as an undercover group, silence is not in their vocabulary. Instead, they use the 'omerta,' meaning the code of silence. The code of silence is essential for the sake of their life when accused and innocent of a crime.
Perfection - At All Times
Just when they thought taking an oath was the final and last stage to becoming a member - well, there's a catch. Of course, everything must be done to perfection, down to the last drop of blood. This step is crucial to becoming a new member and must be performed flawlessly.
Each family has its own criteria on how the incoming member must perform their oath to the Family. So, it's not just a general oath that is taken at the end of the application process but a way of showing the Family the commitment and passion that will be contributed.
Frenemies for Life
The sketchy lifestyle of the Mafia is more than just a business; it's a way of living. The word frenemies perfectly describe the dysfunctional formality of the Family business. For the secretive type of people they are, they are wise enough to know how to get their way.
Any made man or associate will always find a solution when faced with a predicament. They do this by keeping their friends close and enemies closer. It's a savvy way of doing business by sourcing information from critical outsiders, worming their way towards the answers they need.
Pointing the Finger
Knowing and confirming the Family is always right is the accurate MOB way to think in life. No one else has the answers but the Family, and no one should ever think otherwise. Just do it, and everything should go smoothly. That's the only attitude allowed here..
It is a part of their legal rights to know they are right in virtually any and every situation. Otherwise, their business is disrupted and could potentially fail. It all comes down to loyalty; if anyone dares to question a Family member, issues are likely to rise.
A Matter of Respect
Forget about respecting our elders. In the Family, regardless of age, everyone must be treated with the utmost respect. Most importantly, never disrespect a made man. The man with all the power and answers knows too much ever to be mistreated, as they see it.
Former Mafia member Michael Franzese can teach us a thing or two about disrespecting a made man or any Family member, recalling an event or two after a friend escaped a hard hit after mistreating a mob boss. The consequences were light - but they got lucky.
Whenever there is a conflict between families, it is likely to be solved over a formal situation and calm matter to avoid difficulty ahead in the organization. However, in specific cases, punishment is allowed if the commission approves retaliation.
In some instances, these issues between families aren't easy to avoid and must be confronted. If a pentiti - a former mafia member - testifies against a current Family member, the organization will do its best to track them down and kill them. Remember, it's all about loyalty, honesty, and one big happy family.
Leaving The Family
While it's possible to retire from the MOB family, once a member is a member, there is no escape from the Mafia life. As members take a blood oath during the initiation ceremony, that oath is there for life. The blood drawn and dropped onto the saint will remain in that family for generations.
Due to the legalities involved, there is no fundamental safety after retirement. Too much information has been sourced, and too many crimes have been witnessed. All rules are still intact post-Family life. Aside from death, members are on file if they decide to rat on the Family.