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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 god were called Miko, not unlike the Oracle at Delphi of ancient Greece.
Later, miko were young female attendants at Shinto shrines and temples. 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. It is also important to note that 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 Kami (God).
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 traditional costume or dress of a miko is a chihaya, which consists of a scarlet red hakama, either pants or a skirt; a white kimono shirt with swinging sleeves (and oftentimes red trim); and tabi. Occasionally, some shrines, such as the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura, dress their miko in other colors. It is also common for Miko to wear hair ribbons or ornaments, usually colored either red or white. Template:-
Miko are common characters in some Japanese literature, manga, and anime. Miko are often stock characters and are readily identified by their distinctive costume. Perhaps the most common depiction of a Miko has the character sweeping the grounds of a shrine with a bamboo-shafted broom. In some romantic stories, especially bishōjo video games and visual novels, miko are usually portrayed as attractive but extremely stuffy, temperamental, girls--often due to limited or negative exposure to boys. This is in stark contrast to the friendly and demure stereotype of the Christian nun in such stories.
Despite this mundane image, manga and anime typically portray the miko as a heroine who fights evil spirits, demons, and ghosts, often with magical or supernatural powers. In such stories miko are generally depicted as being skilled in some variety of martial art, especially the use of a traditional Japanese weapon such as yumi (longbow), tanto (knife), or any of the various Japanese swords: katana, wakizashi, etc. Miko are almost always attributed the ability to do magic of various sorts, especially o-fuda and various forms of divination. In western role-playing games, they are sometimes treated as rough equivalents to character classes such as Clerics, "white witches", or Paladins. These miko are sometimes referred to as Betsushikime. In some cases, historical miko, such as Izumo no Okuni, were believed to have been Betsushikime. Image:Betsushikime.jpg
Kuro Miko ("Black Miko", though more often translated as Dark Miko or Dark Priestess) are fictional, evil counterparts to traditional miko in Japanese fiction such as manga. They often serve renegade priests or actual demons. The kuro miko is often very versed at demonology and has a strong command of black magic, and wear a darker version of the traditional outfit (burgundy, gold, or black instead of red), sometimes with a mask. Such characters have appeared in InuYasha and Shrine of the Morning Mist.
Examples of miko
- Izumo no Okuni, founder of kabuki
- Donni Barrish, chief miko of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America and a known example of a non-Japanese miko