Cultural References

History, Heritage and Religion

taken from Wikipedia

Miko are women in the service of Shinto shrines.

The Miko tradition dates back to the ancient eras of Japan. In ancient times, women who went into trances and conveyed prophecy or the words of the gods were called Miko, not unlike the Oracle at Delphi of ancient Greece.

Later, miko were young female attendants at Shinto shrines. They were often the daughter(s) of the priest who presided over a given shrine. Roles of the miko included performing in ceremonial dances (miko-mai) and assisting priests in various ceremonies, especially weddings. The tradition continues and today miko can be found at many Shinto shrines. In modern times most Miko are part-time employees or volunteers. Their duties include assisting with shrine functions, performing ceremonial dances, offering Omikuji (a type of fortune telling), and staffing shrine shops.

It is somewhat difficult to assign a strict definition or English equivalent to the Japanese word "Miko", though "shrine maiden" is most often used. Other terms that have been used as equivalents are prophet, medium, priestess, nun, witch, or sorceress. It should be noted that although Shinto has female priests - the term "priestess" is not used in Shinto - they are not the same as miko: miko do not have the same degree of authority as that of an actual priest, although they can serve as the senior cleric of a shrine if no priest is available. The unique exception to this is that in ancient times, the prophecy revealed by Miko was considered to be handed down directly from the kami (spirits).

Theoretically, miko were required to be virgins, however, exceptions have historically been made when one is imbued with a strong character. It is probably true that when a woman who was serving as a miko married, she abandoned her duties at the shrine in order to be with her husband and new family. This rule has since been mostly removed in modern times, though most still leave the service of the shrine or train for the priesthood should they wed.

The dress of a miko (traditionally and what is still worn today) is a chihaya, which consists of a dark red hakama, pleated pants (like kendoka wear), a white kimono shirt with very long and wide sleeves, and tabi socks. White or red ribbons often adorn their hair.

Relevance to Inuyasha

Kikyo and Kagome are both miko. Kikyo is a traditional priestess, while Kagome is a more modern miko, initially just a volunteer at the Higurashi Shrine.

An Introduction to Inuyasha