What were the Secret Combinations? Were they rituals of some sort of were they almost like a motion (like a sign or a handshake) that set themselves apart?At the time of the BoM's publication, the secret combinations spoken of were widely believed to be a reference to Freemasonry. The anti-Masonry movement was in high gear during the years prior to the book's appearance, and the BoM clearly condemned these secret societies. Of course the irony is that Joseph later joined the Masons and presumably patterned his temple ordinances after Masonic ceremonies.
Somehow Mormons make this all work though. Maybe the Masons and the Gadianton robbers were practicing Satan's counterfeit version of the secret handshakes.