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The Rope Shrine Maiden (縄の巫女 Nawa no miko) is a woman who is chosen to perform the Strangling Ritual.
Every 10 years, all of the female children in the immediate Himuro family and Himuro branch families of appropriate age (older than 7 years, 9 months, and 25 days) are gathered in the Himuro Mansion on November 26th for the Demon Tag Ritual.
After being chosen as the Rope Shrine Maiden, the girl child would not be permitted to leave with her family and would remain in the Himuro Mansion, sequestered from the outside world for approximately 10 years.
Within the mansion, she would be kept in the Dungeon, a austere, cage-like room hidden within the Buddha Room, which, coincidentally, lies directly above the Rope Altar. The Buddha Room has a private courtyard, presumably for the maiden's use. Within the mansion, she would be attended by the family priests, who wore masks at all times in her presence. In all likelihood, these priests were close family members. Servants and others who became too attached to the Rope Shrine Maiden may be ordered to commit seppuku or quietly murdered by the family priests in order to ensure the maiden formed no ties.
The Rope Shrine Maiden would receive religious instruction and preparation befitting her role, and taught to eschew all earthly attachments, ties, and emotions. She would need to maintain a state of ritualistic purity for her role, and be eager and willing to die.
It does appear that the Rope Shrine Maidens were permitted some freedoms, especially once they had accepted their role. Kirie, the last Rope Shrine Maiden, was regularly permitted to go outside in the Cherry Atrium, and even met and spoke with important visitors to the mansion. The rope shrine maiden sacrificed in 1797 was also permitted to interact with visitors, which resulted in a man falling in love with her and attempting to stop her ritual.
Rope Shrine Maidens are seen wearing extremely simple, plain kimonos, worn with the right side over the left. This manner of dress, right side over left, is how corpses are traditionally dressed in Japan. She would be given a hairpin passed from previous Maidens, which acted as a key to the Moon Well. Often, she is also depicted as wearing sacred shide, or paper streamers, from her neck and wrists.
After 3,669 days in near total isolation, the Rope Shrine Maiden fulfilled her sacrificial role in the Strangling Ritual.
December 12th, the night before the Strangling Ritual, a Rope Maiden would be taken to the Tsukuyomi Temple (the Moon Shrine), and the Himuro Family Master and the Family Priests would open a trapdoor found under the shrine. The maiden would then climb down a ladder to a small cave (the Moon Well), where she would bathe in the moonlight and purify herself.
From here, on December 13th, she would walk herself to the Rope Altar, where she would willingly lay upon the altar and be bound right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, and then her neck. The four family priests and the Himuro Family Head would turn the winches attached to the ropes until her limbs and head were ripped from her body.
Ropes soaked in the Maiden's blood would be tied across the gates of Hell to hold it closed. It was thought her pure blood lent strength to the ropes, allowing them to stand until the next Strangling Ritual. It is not stated what happens to the old ropes from the previous ritual. While in Shintoism, blood is considered a major form of pollution, in Buddhist practice, self-mortification and mutilation is a demonstration of piety and lack of bodily attachment.
The first ever Rope Shrine Maiden (date unknown) is enshrined in the Moon Well.