The mafia initiation rites video that made the headlines this week is nothing but an invention by Italy's most secretive mob to divert public attention from their real affairs while mimicking the state's myths, according to a mafia expert.

New members of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia were caught on camera for the first time while taking an oath in front of a gun and a suicide pill, which they are instructed to swallow if they are ever coerced to betray their new clan. The apparently ground-breaking footage was recorded by Carabinieri police with a hidden camera and included the ritual known as the Santa (Holy) bestowal, in which initiates swear allegiance "in the silence of the night and under the light of the stars".

The masonic-esque initiation ritual played on suggestions seen countless times on TV series, films and novels, but never before recorded on video in real life.

However, Marcello Ravveduto, a researcher with at Salerno University, rejects suggestions that the clip portrays an ancient, traditional ritual passed down through generations over centuries.

"That ritual is not ancient, it's one of those things that historian Eric Hobsbawm called 'invention of the tradition'," he told IBTimes UK.

"Organisations that have structures similar to the state - like the mafia - tend to rebuild a stock of traditions that could give themselves authority and prestige."

Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso

During the oath, the new affiliates are asked to swear on the names of three Italian nationalist figures of the 19th century: unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, politician Giuseppe Mazzini and army general and founder of the Bersaglieri (Marksmen) Alfonso La Marmora.

Police said the names of the three historic figures are used in place of those of high ranking clan members - respectively the boss, the accountant, and a figure known as the '236th day Master'.

But to Ravveduto it is no coincidence that the founding fathers of Italy are cited in the oath.

"It confirms the idea of mimicking the state and using the Italian myths to affirm their Italian-ness," he said. "It's a provocation, a call to national identity at a moment when it's fading."

The academic stopped short of saying that the ceremony was staged, although he said he spotted "strong elements of external communication".

The three popular Italian figures are similar to those of the invented legend of the mafia: Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso, who founded respectively Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and Camorra in Naples.

Video: This purported mafia initiation ceremony went viral online IBTimes UK

Family business

According to Ravveduto, no mafia organisation pledges allegiance this way.

"It's a total invention," he said. "Mafia knows how to use mass communication. The oath is diverting public opinion's attention from real issues.

"They're not using traditional elements. They would've never used La Marmora, for instance, in a real oath."

Against all the glamour, the real mafia oath is the bonds between family members, Ravveduto says.

"That's what it makes 'Ndrangheta the strongest of the three mafias and difficult to beat," he said.

From the mountains of southern Italy, the 'Ndrangheta mafia has become Europe's heavyweight drug cartel, establishing ties with the drug barons in South America and spreading their wings of influence to northern Italy.

Strict blood ties means turncoats are few compared with Camorra and Cosa Nostra. "You'll never be able to denounce your brother because you would split up the family, and that's the worst that can happen for a 'Ndrangheta member," the academic said.

Camorra already uses radio programmes to spread its messages and 'Ndrangheta allegedly sent text messages to a popular football TV show that appear on the ticker to communicate with affiliates.

The video was released by Milan prosecutors as they announced the arrests of 40 suspected 'Ndrangheta operatives, including a teenager, in the northern Lombardy region.

The probe was part of a series investigations led by Milan police that have revealed how 'Ndrangheta has increased its presence in the industrial north in recent years.

"Just like Garibaldi wanted to colonise Southern Italy, Mafia is now colonising Lombardia, thanks to its criminal network," Ravveduto said.