mid-14c., "distinctive system of beliefs or observances; party or school within a religion," from Old French secte, sete "sect, religious community," or directly from Late Latin secta "religious group, sect in philosophy or religion," from Latin secta "manner, mode, following, school of thought," literally "a way, road, beaten path," from fem. of sectus, variant past participle of sequi "follow," from PIE root *sekw- (1) "to follow." Confused in this sense with Latin secta, fem. past participle of secare "to cut" (from PIE root *sek- "to cut"). Meaning "separately organized religious body" is recorded from 1570s.