was a domestic rite. Each home had its altar and its sacred fire, whose flame must never be allowed to go out. And so the word hestia or vesta — the fixed place for the family hearth-fire — came to represent the divine mother, the guardian of the family, who, if duly honored, would preserve it in honor and prosperity. It was the office of the father or grandfather, the living head of the family, to pour on the sacred flame the offerings of meal and butter, to offer the incense and pour out the libations, and to salute with prayer and praise the beneficent god of light, at his morning rising; or when, by neglect properly to feed the deity of the hearth, the god had left them, it was the duty of the father to bring him back, by the friction of the sacred sticks.
As families increased to tribes, and tribes were consolidated, the chief of the tribe, the patriarch of the community became, of course, the proper officer to perform the religions rites for the greater social body; as was the case in ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome, and is still the case in China to-day. The gods were conceived of as belonging to and concerned only with the tribe or nation that worshiped them; often, indeed, were imagined inseparable from a particular land; and he who went away from it was beyond the protection of his accustomed gods.
Thus David, in his well-known appeal (1 Samuel, xxvi, 19), says to Saul, If men have stirred thee up against me, they are cursed, for they have driven me out this day from dwelling in Jehovah's heritage, saying to me, Go, serve other gods. The idea that all lands might be under the care of one god, and the people of different nations might be of one religion, was a conception slow in arising. Whoever belonged to a tribe or nation was bound to worship the gods of that nation. When a man was adopted into a nation, or a woman married into another gens or tribe, such a person was held to adopt the divinities and tutelar deities of their new companions also. The promise of Ruth to Naomi, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God,” was not an exceptional but a necessary conjunction. To disown or ignore the gods of one's fathers was to disown one's nationality.
Conversely, the god of a special people must protect and favor his own. In the historical books of the Old Testament, e. g., we see many times appearing the idea that Jehovah's honor is so bound up with that of his people that he could not neglect to protect and bless them, no matter how great his wrath against their trespasses. The existence of foreign gods was not at all disbelieved, nor their power denied. But they were looked upon as naturally confining their favors to their own land and people. It was proper that their own people should worship them, but to foreigners they would be indifferent or hostile. To introduce strange gods into the state was therefore a dangerous experiment, entailing the risk of alienating their rightful divine protectors.