The Clans are the predominant political organizations of Sidh society. Originally established as semi-autonomous administrative entities similar to (and in conscious immitation of) Skargh noble houses, the Clans have since lost much of their original power, but still remain prominent in Imperial politics.
With the foundation and early expansion of the Imperium of Sidhae, the nascent Imperial government was faced with the challenge of effectively administering planet-sized territories over interstellar distances. Since FTL communications were still in their infancy back in the day, and courier ships often took weeks to reach their destinations even across relatively short distances, maintaining a highly-centralized government was a logistical impossibility.
For this reason, the Emperor looked up to an already-existing example - the Skargh Empire, essentially a feudal state whose decentralized structure appeared to be quite effective in maintaining a government authority and rule of law despite long periods of non-communication with the central government. However, a traditional feudal system in Sidh society was out of the question - the Skargh were ruled by a hereditary nobility, a notion contrary to the very fundamentals of Sidh society that sought to abolish any form of hereditary privilege whatsoever.
For this reason, entities that came to be known as Clans were artificially created, their members bound not by blood relation, but by a conscious decision to identify with that particular faction for whatever reasons.
The Clans of the Old Imperium were powerful and highly-autonomous entities, authorized to raise their own fleets and armies and colonize and conquer new worlds in the Emperor's name. The Emperor also maintained a sizable personal domain and the mighty Imperial Guard as his private army to keep the Clans in line. Such a system worked reasonably well as long as the Clans did not develop ideological differences or focus on power games at home. However, the lack of centralized oversight also resulted an inherent instability of such a system. This became especially evident during the succession dispute that resulted in the Emperor's assassination and the Sidh Civil War, starting the devastating Age of War - the rebellious Traitor Clans had sufficient military and economic might to challenge the rest of the Imperium's Loyalist forces.
Following the Age of War and the Second Pilgrimage, the Empress enacted sweeping reforms to prevent a repetition of the Civil War, greatly culling Clan power. Since all Clans, former Traitor and Loyalist alike, had been reduced to a shadow of their former selves, and the Imperial Guard remained the only Sidh military force to have survived the Age of War in a somewhat good condition, Clan leaders could not offer much challenge to these reforms in any case. The Clans were consequently reduced largely to purely-political entities without actual economic or military power, although they would still retain significant indirect influence in government affairs.
It is difficult to explain in a single sentence what a Sidh Clan is. They have been variously described as fraternal organizations, political parties and administrative entities, all these descriptions being true yet failing to present a complete picture. The most accurate available definition of a Clan is a "fraternal organization of eligible citizens (i.e., military veterans) in control of sufficient resources to raise at least one legion of troops, and one battlefleet of ships". This was literally true in the past when the Clans actually controlled the territories they colonized or conquered and were allowed to raise their own armies and fleets. In the present age, it refers to the collective economic power of its members.
Membership of the Clans is open to every Sidh with full citizen rights, which can only be earned through military service. The defining element of Clan identity is shared rights and responsibilities as full citizens. In that respect, the Clans serve to promote civic responsibility and political activity, actively encouraging members to exercise their political rights. Military service, asides from being a legal requirement for citizenship, serves as the shared bonding experience of all members, a proof of their readiness to defend their rights and decisions with their lives if necessary.
As fraternal organizations, Clans also provide an extra layer of social security to their members. Although the Imperium provides the subsistence minimum to all citizens, it does little else, so it pays to be in a Clan on whose fellow members to rely for support if one has fallen on hard times. This support network serves as a surrogate for family and kindred in the Sidh society where family and kinship has been abolished.
As administrative entities, Clans can be best compared to voting districts in some human democracies, the Imperium too practicing a limited, military democracy. In earlier ages, the Clans actually held political and legislative power over the realms conquered or colonized by them, but presently their influence has largely been reduced to informal - for example, a planetary governor from a certain Clan offering favourable dealings to his clan-mates.
While Clans are often likened to political parties, it is inaccurate, since there are no major ideological differences between different Clans, but people of all ideological leanings are represented within each and every one of them. Overall, Clans lean more towards the conservative, traditionalist side of Imperium's political spectrum.
Joining a Clan is deemed almost self-evident by everyone eligible, and Clans will indeed go to great lengths to attract new members. New members typically join the Clan predominant on their homeworld, although the post-Age of War reforms mandate that all Clans be allowed to recruit on every world without prejudice regardless of who holds the majority among the eligible populace. The few who choose to remain outside the Clan system despite being eligible are known as Freelancers, Sidhae who refuse to submit to the rigid traditionalist, conformist lifestyle that characterizes Clan members and Sidh society in general.
Membership of a Clan is traditionally deemed so important that a Sidh will adopt the Clan name as part of his own upon joining. Addressing one by Clan name is oft used to signify the seriousness and solemnity of the situation to those involved.
Every Clan is headed by a Primarch, an elected official who is usually a senior member of significant political influence. The Primarch has two Praetors as his deputies, also elected.
Clan administration is divided on an Imperial, Sector, Sub-sector and Planetary level, and in this respect is managed similarly to traditional political parties.
On every administrative level, the Clan maintains a Tribune responsible for overseeing the well-being of Clan members within his jurisdiction, and for addressing their issues and grievances.
The total number of Clans stands at around 30, minor Clans forming and dissolving somewhat regularly. The eight largest and most stable Clans that have existed since the dawn of Imperium are known as the Great Clans.
- Clan Amendha - a Traitor Clan during the Sidh Civil war
- Clan Eskyap - a Traitor Clan
- Clan Yrolhai
- Clan Katara - a Traitor Clan
- Clan Ishamna
- Clan Vraak - a Traitor Clan
- Clan Ohthor
- Clan Invictus
Four of the most powerful Great Clans rebelled against the Emperor at the onset of the Sidh Civil War, thereafter being branded as Traitor Clans. A number of minor Clans sided with them in rebellion, many of them later being annihilated for their treachery or simply dissolved and assimilated by more powerful clans after being weakened too much by warfare. Others sided with the Loyalists and fought on the side of the Empress, whom they saw as the Emperor's lawful successor.
After the sacrifice of Lady Murasaki who exposed the conspiracy of Traitor Clan leaders to assassinate the Emperor and seize power by installing their own puppet on the Aquila Throne, the majority of the Traitor Clan forces defected to the Loyalist side virtually overnight in order to wash away the black stain of treachery on their honour. For this reason, and for that of future peace and stability, the Empress adopted a policy of forgiveness and reconciliation, extending a blanket pardon to all who had fought on the Traitor side and were not guilty of war crimes at the end of the Civil War.