(Disclaimer: Tons of pics, may take time to load. Plaques from the museum are transcribed verbatim throughout)
The devil’s museum was just opening as we arrived, and aside from a father-son pair we had the place to ourselves. Everything was appropriately devil-themed, even the directions painted on the floor and the washrooms:
Helpful multilingual signage informs us that the collection began in 1906 when a Lithuanian painter coincidentally received two devil-themed gifts almost simultaneously. The painter decided to collect a “devil’s dozen” of Beelzebubs but got carried away in all the Satanic Panic and wound up with 260 Lucifers from all around the world. In 1961 he donated his collection to the state and in 1966 it went on public display. The collection now contains nearly 3,000 devils. Let’s take a gander, shall we?
The collection was divided up somewhat thematically – for example, drinking-related devils were grouped together – and a lot of the exhibits were far removed from what would come to mind for us when we think of Satan. Look at this goofy Fraggle Rock looking bastard, for example:
Most did bear some resemblance to what we expected, though:
Personally I’ve always associated “the devil” with the Biblical Satan, but it’s a lot more complex in Lithuania. The country’s folk tradition apparently has thousands of stories about devils (plural) and different devils have particularly traits. A panel explains that some devils are clever, some are silly, and that sometimes people defeat the devil. This tale is an example:
Once a man argued with a devil who is smarter. The man said that the devil would be cleverer if he got into a hole drilled in the wall. The devil got in, and the man hammered a rowan plug into it.
That story sucks. This one is better.
In Lithuanian folklore the devil can create animals, has herds of them, or appears in the shape of them. Most often he has goat features.
Whatcha doin with that goat there Satan
Once upon a time an old woman was looking for her lost goat. She went here and there, she kept calling it but every time the goat answered from a different place. It continued all day long from the morning till the evening. She got angry and said: “Go away you, devil! Don’t tire me!” The devil laughed so loudly that all the forest rang. The woman guessed who had been tiring her.
Along with goats, the devil’s also associated with some plants – henbane (?), hellebore (?), stramonium (???), hemp and tobacco. “Some legends say that tobacco grew on the grave of the devil’s mother, other legends tell that the devil gave tobacco to people during his mother’s funeral – he invited people to smell tobacco so that everyone cried for his mother.”
The devil sowed an unknown grass. The man wanted to find out its name. He mounted backwards his goat and rode into the devil’s crop. The devil shouted: Get out of my tobacco! – and thus admitted the name of his grass.
In addition to blazing and darts, the devil also enjoys the sauce. In Lithuania it’s believed that the devil invented vodka, also known as “devil drops”, so it’s easier for the devil to take control of a man.
Lucifer made alcohol from the she-goat’s urine. God gave people a permission to drink only two goblets of alcohol, one to honour God and the second to hail themselves, the third one thus being dedicated to the devil. When a man drinks the third goblet his throat starts burning. That is why vodka (degtine) in Lithuanian is called the thing that burns (degti).
How to invite a devil?
Thinking of him will suffice, you just need to call his name at night, you whistle when at crossroads, you read a book with a horseshoe drawn on it, you whistle at home, you say “Our Father” backwards.
The devil is also associated with stones in Lithuanian folklore. “God sows crops while the devil sows stones.” The devil sits around on large boulders playing cards and even leaves footprints on some of them. “More than 150 boulders with footprints are known in Lithuania, and it is believed that more than half of them contain devil’s footprints.” It’s also “said” that each boulder has a devil living underneath of it.
The devil is also associated with natural elements like fire, water and the wind.
A devil stoking fire is depicted in hell; he cooks human souls. No wonder that he is called the stoker of the hell pot. In fairy tales, devil often appears close to the water, lives in the water or underwater in marshes, moors or puddles. It is believed the devil rushes to dine in a gust of wind; this way he carries souls to hell and holds his wedding feasts.
At this point, it seems to me like the devil is associated with more things than not…
The struggle between the devil and the Thunder, the ruler of the sky, is a popular theme in Lithuanian folklore. It was believed that when the rumble of the Thunder is heard the devils are beaten by the lord of the sky. Devils hide in water, under the trees and stones, or can take a shape of an animal. The Thunder strikes devils with lightning, silver arrows or bullets. These bullets or “devil’s fingers” are found near the rivers or in the sand. Actually these are fossilized spiral shells from prehistoric times.
This Devil reminds me of that Ashley MacIsaac tune The Devil in the Kitchen
The largest devil of the collection. The devil is not always a seducer. He can fulfill the function of a custodian of the established order and punish for work on festive days. It was believed that if a person worked, went swimming or for a walk in the forest he could meet a devil. People who went swimming in a lake on a Sunday could be swallowed by a huge fish. As the night belongs to the devil therefore one shouldn’t go for a walk at night or look up at the ceiling, at the mirror or through the window and solve riddles.
Solving riddles at night is the devil?
Kipsas (the dickens), pinciukas (the deuce), Bevardis (the nameless), Bekelnis (the trouserless), biesas (the evil force), ponaitis (the young master), negerasis (the not-good one) – these are just a few names, the number of which is believed to be more than a thousand in the Lithuanian language. Who is this mysterious creature? Who is the owner of these one-thousand-and-something names? Not everyone dared address him by name. […] By the way, about 400 places names are estimated in Lithuania to be related to the devil; Velnio duobe (Devil’s Hole), Velniaraistis (Devil’s Bog), Velniabale (Devil’s Swamp). […] The time of his reigning is the night or the darker periods of the day. Let him introduce himself – the Devil.
“My Lithuania”: Historical meaning of this composition refers to the events of 1939-1941 when Lithuania and other countries of Eastern Europe were annexed to the Soviet Union. Historic figures Stalin and Hitler are given disguises of demonic creates who brought suffering and pain to the lives millions of people.
The relationship of the couple of the devil and the witch, a woman with supernatural abilities, is often described in Lithuanian folklore. It is believed that the devil teaches her sorcery, she carries out his orders. Sometimes she is one-eyed. After the death, the witch goes to hell and marries a devil Yet can a witch be called devil’s wife? […] There lived a witch and she had a son. He grew up and fell in love with a girl. Mother didn’t want them to love each other so she turned in a black bitch and barked fiercely wanting to set teeth on his heels. The fellow grabbed the dog and cut off its ears and nails. On his return home in the morning he founds his mother without ears and fingers.
“Devil and a Woman”: The cajolery of the devil such as proposing or an invitation to dance is usually fatal to the woman. Those women who can’t outwit the swindler die and those who win survive. Most usually the devil is given impossible tasks – fetching all items of something one by one, drying up a river, etc. Sometimes husbands leave quarrelsome wives to the devil but even the devil can’t tame them.
A young woman was sleeping in the barn. The devil invited her for a dance. The girl started telling about the sufferings of flax – how it is sown, how it lies in the ground, how it germinates and grows, then how it is pulled, thrashed, combed, woven and so on. She talked and talked until the rooster crowed and the devil ran away.
A devil went plucking apples with a man. When they were there, the devil tells the man: “You get into the apple tree.” Then the man got into the apple tree to shake apples down. He left his basket on the ground. Yet the devil picked both baskets of apples, the man’s and his own, and ran away. The man got neither apples nor his own basket. Since then it has been told: “Never go plucking apples with the devil as you will end being without apples and your own basket.”
In Lithuania, an agricultural country, the devil as the owner and patron of animals was thought to be the richest mythological being. His riches comprised not only animal herds but also money, gold and jewelry. Enchanted treasures buried deeply in the ground were his property, too. The man can often be tempted by the devil – the devil offers money in exchange for the soul. Tales about a foolish devil are the best examples of his prosperity.
There lived a man who could see devils. He went to a wedding party where he noticed a dancing devil. He started beating the devil. The devil begged to let him go and offered him money. The man made a hole in his hat, put it on top of the chimney and told the devil to fill his hat with money. The devil poured and poured coins into the hat till all the house was full of money.
The devils as well as other residents of the underground are fond of music. They invite musicians to their wedding-parties and feasts. Devils can frequently play musical instruments by themselves. When a devil starts playing all the forest resounds the music. It was believed that the devil could teach playing the violin if one went to some crossroads at midnight. Later on when such a musician began playing, strings of other musicians broke.
On his return from a wedding party, a musician met a young gentleman who asked him to play in his wedding. The musician agreed. There was only one woman and many young gentlemen there. They were dancing the bride. When midnight struck they invited the musician to overnight. When the musician woke up in the morning he found himself lying on a mound in a puddle, and his payment was dung and silver instead of money. That woman appeared to be a young landlady who had hung herself that night.
Shrovetide masks: Shrovetide is celebrated on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is linked with one element of the cycle of a year – the end of winter. During Shrove Tuesday festivities revelers wearing costumes and masks make plenty of noise, dance and sing, roll in snow, splash water and finally burn a figure of a woman who is given names according to region in Lithuania: Kotre, More, Ciucela. This symbolizes the destruction of the winter’s demonic creatures and powers thereby opening the road to spring. Much rich food and drink is consumed on Shrove Tuesday to ‘sustain people saroughant Lent’. Every year a fight between Mr. Bacon (Lasininis) symbolizing fat post-Christmas period and Mr. Hemp (Kanapinis) symbolizing lean period of lenten fast breaks up. The winner is always Mr. Hemp – the Lent covering seven weeks of fast before Easter begins. Among favorite Shrove Tuesday characters of beggars, gypsies, jews, ancestors, cranes, goats, the devil mask is very frequent. It has the function of frightening and intimidation.
On the second floor of the exhibit is a collection of devils from outside of Lithuania. Some are from nearby places like Poland, Russia and Ukraine, but some are from as far away as South America.
“Ukrainian Devil”: The devil is a popular personage in Slavic folklore and literature. The well-known Russian writer N. Gogol in his story “Christmas Eve Night” from his collections of stories ‘Evenings in a Farm Near Dikanka’ depicts the devil with pig’s snout who steals the Moon from the sky and causes a snow-storm. Inexplicable and mystic things start on the shortest day of the year and wonderful Christmas Eve night. Inevitably devils and witches are involved there. Smart blacksmith Vakula harnesses the devil and rides on him to the Russian queen, when his beloved beauty Oksana orders him to bring her queen’s slippers for her promise to marry the blacksmith.
“Devil’s Feast in Venezuela”: Every June on the Corpus Christi Day in San Francisco de Yare, a small town in Venezuela, the Devil’s Feast takes place. An old legend says that this tradition started in the 17th c. in colonial times when during a dry year people begged the devil for the rain to water their fields. Soince then devils dance on the Corpus Christi day. The procession of devils follows the Holy Sacrament around the town, the priest blesses good devils. Devils, devil-women and little devils dance wild dances symbolizing a fight between good and evil mixed with faith, prejudice and magic.
Halloween (All Hallow Even) is celebrated on the evening before November 1, All Saints’ Day. It is a pagan Celtic festival, the Druid New Year when the reign of summer goddess is replaced by the reign of god and winter. On that night the worlds of the living and the dead merge. The main participants of the feast are souls of the dead and demons. People wear costumes of ghosts, the hanged, skeletons, demons; various rituals are performed – young girls are ‘sacrificed’, collections of masks are presented, magic and spiritism are practiced, carnival of witches goes wild, ‘poison’ is served to drink.
Krampus: In the folklore of the countries around the Alps, Krampus is a frequently mentioned demonic creature. This is a terrifying devil of frightening looks; it is hairy, even shaggy, with massive horns on the forehead, the mouth is grinning wide, the red tongue is hanging down. It habitually appeared on the eve of December 5 or in the first week of December when St. Nicholas was being celebrated. It was believed that the demon would catch and take to his kingdom those kids who did not obey their parents or misbehaved. […] Traditionally before Christmas young men were dressing like demons not only in Austria, Southern Bavaria and Tirol but also in Hungary, Slovenia, the present-day Czech Republic and Croatia.
Walpurgis Night: Orgies of witches have been known in Europe since 14th c. when in 1330 inquisition of Carcassone (france) sentenced to death one witch for participating in such an orgy. Nowadays Walpurgis night is celebrated noisily on May 1. It is traced back to ancient German religion. […] Noisy processions of people in costumes of witches and devils extent along the streets of the towns and at midnight reach the Broken mountain, 1200 metres above the sea level, where bonfires are built and straw witches, symbol of winter are burned. It is believed that at this night weddings of witches and devils are held. At Walpurgis night the ointments made of magic herbs for luring lovers are available.
‘Evil Eye’: People with demonic skills who can spell-bind by word, hand or glance are thought to be obsessed. A conversation with such a person or shake of his hands may cause the fall of animals, a cow dry-off, spoiled food, illness or even death. A belief in France says that a person should carry salt and touch it whenever he meets an obsessed neighbour to avoid such spell-binds. In Italy you should make horns or give ‘an evil eye’ the fig. A glance from eyes or face can be screened by amulets. Horse shoes, blue glass-beads (Azerbaijan), red ties (Russia, Lithuania), tattoos may have protective functions. It is believed even nowadays that spell-binds can be repealed by prayers or incantations of ‘wise women’.
That was pretty metal, well worth the cost of entrance. We don’t have a lot of time left in Kaunas before we need to get on a bus and head across the border to Latvia, but we decide to book it towards the rest of the Old Town and the castle before we do.