When a sneaky little voice whispered in my ear to drive to Kaunas, Lithuania to see the Devil Museum, I obeyed. How could I not? The museum contains more than 3,000 depictions of the devil!
The Devil Museum
For 5€, visitors can explore three floors of art from different parts of the world depicting the devil. The collection originally belonged to a man named Antanas Žmuidzinavičius. It started as a personal collection of sculptures, paintings, and other pieces of art, but as word grew, people began sending pieces to add to the collection. Originally opened to the public in 1966, the collection grew to about 3,000 pieces and was moved to its current location near Old Town Kaunas in 1983.
Along with the display cases of devils organized mostly by country are small placards that tell facts and folktales surrounding the devil in each region.
Interestingly, though the museum does post most of the placards in English as well as Lithuanian and Russian, the red-horned, pitchforked Devil we know in America isn’t really a part of the collection. This was the closest display I saw, and it was ascribed to our Halloween celebrations.
I feel like I need to find some more replicas of our American devil and send them to the museum!
Who is the devil?
In America, we often speak of the devil as evil. He is the opposite of God. He tricks us by preying on our weaknesses and luring us to do evil with him. When we do, we go to Hell. In some of our legends, we sell our soul to the devil — giving him our eternal souls in exchange for a wish. We are often duped. The devil is not to be trusted. He may grant our wishes, but we find that we were foolish to wish for the things we wished for and it is NEVER worth the price we pay with our souls.
In other parts of the world, the devil is a little more impish. Sometimes he asks for man’s help to hide him from Thunder God. Or he helps us with chores, or lends money. Folktales about the devil being silly and mischievous number in the thousands. He likes to trick us, but ultimately humans defeat him. I was especially tickled by one description of the devil coming disguised as “a young nobleman, a hunter, a priest, or a German; he loves turning into a shoemaker, a musician or a blacksmith.”
Silly German rascal!
The Devil in Folklore
What struck me most as I read the few placards placed on the museum cases was the story element of the devil in so many of these eastern European countries. He seemed to be an integral part of their cultural narrative, residing in the forest, the water, the home at social gatherings, and even in barns and stables. He was tricky, and the folktales seemed to imply that if you knew the rules, or the antidotes to the devil’s tricks, you would triumph against him.
For instance, one cautionary tale warns that people who went swimming in a lake on a Sunday could be swallowed by a huge fish. They were also warned that the devil owns the night, so they shouldn’t go for a walk at night, or look up at the ceiling. Or look through windows and solve riddles. The devil is tricky!
The devil is also, apparently, the inventor of vodka. In Lithuanian culture, God gave permission to drink only two goblets of alcohol: one to honor God and the other for man. But the third — well, the third is dedicated to the devil. So when a man drinks a third goblet of vodka, his throat starts to burn.
These ideas of the devil are so unlike what I grew up with. You can tell that by the tales, but also through the artwork itself. This devilish display of Stalin and Hitler speaks for itself.
Devilish Artwork in the Museum
The museum displays sculptures, masks, and paintings. Some of these are easily recognizable as the devil we’re familiar with, but others are more puerile.
And some, more abstract.
No matter the form the devil took in each piece, one thing was clear: the idea of the devil is universal and is recognizable in most cultures.
The Devil Made Me Do It!
A funny aside to our museum visit: when we left, we headed to Old Town Kaunas. This short car ride involved a roundabout. Now, I love roundabouts. We have dozens of them in the township where I live, but for some reason, I could not follow the GPS to get through the roundabout leading into Old Town. The arrow looked like it was always pointing to a different exit for me to take and I ended up either missing the exit and circling around another time, or getting off on the wrong one. Each time, my daughter-in-law navigated me back through it. It became a running joke because it happened almost every time I came to a roundabout. Later, she sent me this cartoon:
It made me laugh. And then quickly made me wonder if that impish little devil I’d just visited was messing with me??? Stranger things have happened.
Silly little rascal.
Does the Devil Museum interest you?