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 begin training for the priesthood should they wed.
The attire of a miko (traditionally and still worn today) consists of hakama, a kimono shirt, and tabi. Occasionally miko wear a thin white haori called "chihaya". The hakama is usually red, but other colors are not unheard of. The kimono shirt has long, wide sleeves and is always white, as white is a symbol of purity. White or red ribbons often adorn a miko's hair.
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 (bow), 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 . In some cases, historical miko, such as Izumo no Okuni, were believed to have been besshikime.
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.