reins (rānz) n. pl. [ME. Reines; OFr. Reins; L. renes, pl. of ren, kidney], [Archaic], 1. the kidneys, region of the kidneys, or loins 2. the loins as the seat of the emotions and affections; hence 3. the emotions and affections.
In using a dictionary from 1955, there is always the possibility of coming up with words that are now defunct or seldom used. However, for this week, I came upon a word that I was familiar with but whose listed definition is no longer associated with the word.
After searches on multiple online dictionary sites, I was unsuccessful in finding this dictionary definition anywhere. Everywhere reins involved horses and the strap used to make them yield. It was about the act of restraint, of pulling back. But a search with reins and the word kidney revealed that the word in this context was used often biblically:
Psalms 16:7 My reins also instruct me in the night.
Proverbs 23:16 My reins shall rejoice.
Psalms 7:9 God trieth the hearts and reins.
Isaiah 11:5 Faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
Job 16:13 He cleaveth my reins asunder.
In ancient Hebrew tradition, the kidney was of equal value to the heart. According to Dr. Giovanni Maio at the University of Lübeck’s Institute for the History of Medicine and Science in Germany, the kidneys were where the deepest emotions and passions resided. Kidneys were representative of the secret inner world all humans have and were a metaphor for deep reflection. Kidneys were also referenced as both a place of great strength and also one of great vulnerability.
It is compelling then that the definition of reins that we use currently relates to and tempers the older one. Reins are something that facilitate control: of a horse, of a passion, of our innermost desires. Instead of, as it was, the organ that produces those desires themselves.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney is responsible for growth and maturation as well as for reproduction. So, when the kidney is malfunctioning or imbalanced, the person suffering can emotionally manifest this by feeling fearful or isolated or insecure.
I guess it makes sense too that kidneys were seen as the site of passions because when kidneys are working properly, they regulate the body, keeping it balanced. They filter the system and get rid of waste. And when they don’t, there is build up. The rest of the body suffers. These are passions that need to be honored for their power and also controlled.