Traditionally it is assumed that “modern” civil society originated in the associations, clubs, and public sphere of the eighteenth century as a result of the “liberation” of the individual from the “shackles” of absolutism, religious intolerance, and the patriarchal family. However, recent research goes further back in time. Scholars such as Robert Putnam (sociologist), Antony Black (political scientist), and Katherine Lynch (historian) associate the origins of civil society with the heyday of confraternities and guilds in the late Middle Ages. This has serious consequences for our understanding of the characteristics and functions of civil society. Given that confraternities were permeated by religious devotion and crafts were inextricably bound to the (often undemocratic) political establishment, fundamental questions arise about the importance of religion in civil society and the role of associations in the political participation of individuals. This article suggests that several longterm trends can be observed when broaching civil society from the perspective of guilds (or brotherhoods). In early modern guilds, the fraternal ideals related to mutual aid and equality appear to have gradually disappeared. Craft guilds stopped being “brotherhoods” and “substitute families” and transformed into formal and bureaucratic juridical institutions, while retreating into a sphere separate from household and family.