The medieval guild was built around an authoritative hierarchical system with three layers: masters, journeymen and apprentices. The apprentice's apprenticeship was focused on imitation: learning by copying. The guilds were based on the personal transfer of knowledge from one generation to another. This transfer of knowledge acted as a kind of social capital, and was thought of as the guild’s source of economic power.
Together, the members of the guild built up a strong sense of community. Detailed rituals were used to ensure that the guild members felt interconnected. All medieval guilds were based on a family hierarchy, but this hierarchy was not necessarily based on blood ties. The master was bound by a religious oath, which ensured the protection of the apprentices from the master's opportunism. In return, the apprentice was obliged to keep his master's secrets. The religious oath of the guild formed the basis of a mutual relationship between master and apprentice based on honor, and not just ordinary family obedience. These legal and religious ties involved a reciprocal emotional yield that the biological bond could not provide. They assured the good apprentice of getting to wear the banner and emblems of the guild at civic parades.