Virgin Priestess

“The Virgin Priestess” was a post held by an imperial princess, who was consecrated as chief Shinto handmaiden at the the Kamo Shrine. (There was an Ise Virgin for the great Ise Shrine as well.) Her duties were to lead an undefiled life (in particular this meant no Buddhist influences) and conduct purification ceremonies for the benefit of the imperial family and the nation on the occasion of the great Aoi Festival. The procession of the Virgin to the Kamo River on that day was a magnificent event in Murasaki's time. One such scene is described in my book—a scene that itself is drawn from Murasaki's Tale of Genji. The woman who held this position at the time of my story was Princess Senshi (964-1035), tenth daughter of Emperor Murakami. She took on the role when she was eleven years old and held it through the reign of five emperors. Known as a poet, she presided over a literary salon very much the equal of imperial spouses like Shōshi and Teishi. In fact, Murasaki expresses envy over her tranquil surroundings as well as rage over the smugness of a certain Lady Chūjo who was in her service.