It’s fair to say that there are two types of museums: the ordinary, run-of-the-mill museums, and the strange, obscure museums. The Devil Museum in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas is most definitely the latter. Scrolling through the list of things to do in Kaunas, the Devil Museum understandably caught my eye and captured my curiosity. I didn’t dig any deeper, just marked it on my map and made it a consideration to visit. I’ll share a more complete look at what there is to do in Kaunas next time, but for now I’d like to highlight the Devil Museum.
While out walking the next day, I realised that I was close to the museum and decided to go give it a look. Now I have no particular interest in the occult or that kind of religious matter, but when you hear the word “Devil Museum”, you can’t help but be curious.
When I found myself standing in front of the building, I was quite surprised at how understated the museum’s exterior was. Just a clear sign in the window of an otherwise nondescript building, telling you that you’re there. After heading in and paying the small entry fee of 2€, I began my visit.
So, how did this unusual museum come to be? You’re probably thinking it was some sort of obsessive Satanist right? I mean that’s where I was leaning towards. But as it turns out, that’s way off base.
The museum, or I should say the collection, actually began through pure coincidence. In 1906, local artist and public figure Antanas Žmuidzinavičius was gifted two sculptures of the devil one shortly after the other. One sculpture came from a well-known priest who actually sawed off the devil from a larger sculpture and left a bizarre note to the painter saying “To collect Devil’s the whole life”.
This strange case of happenstance kindled a rather eccentric obsession in Žmuidzinavičius, who decided to begin collecting “Devils”, eventually creating something that would even outlive him. After his death in 1966, his house was converted into a museum to house the collection, even then consisting of surprising 260 devil sculptures. As the museum’s collection expanded, in part due to visitors leaving their own satanic gifts, so did the museum. The museum now has over 3000 artefacts over 3 floors, making it a museum unlike any other in the world.
A visit begins with the original collection of Antanas Žmuidzinavičius and other devils found in Lithuania, on the ground floor. You begin to get a sense for the museum here and there are some interesting pieces on displays. The pieces on display vary from sculptures of stone, ceramic and especially wood, to artwork and even just everyday tools. Accompanying these items are often details on who donated them, as well as interesting insights into the folklore around the diabolical figure. The boards are presented in Lithuanian, English and Russian.
A particularly interesting one is the museum’s smallest piece, a tiny golden token from Russia with the figure of the devil on it. Only catch is that it’s so small you need to view it through a magnifying glass.
Aside from the artefacts, the exhibits on the first floor tell you about the nature of the Devil, both in the Biblical sense and his role in Lithuanian folklore. The exhibits explain the typical look of the devil, i.e. thin, distorted with horns, hooves and a tail. They touch on the mythology of him as a fallen angel, sentenced to hell by God and his subversive attitude. They also cover how to repel the devil with an array of things from holy water, to prayers, to….the number 1.
What I found more interesting was when they touched on things like the Lithuanian legends around the relationship between the Devil and nature. For example, it was believed that he created boulders, with many supposedly bearing his footprint. Another was that it was the Devil who created vodka. It was said that alcohol turns people into “animals” and makes it easier for the Devil to control them. Apparently, God only permitted humans drink two goblets of alcohol, for one to honour God, the next to honour themselves, but a third would honour the Devil. Hmm.
On the next floor you find more sculptures and items that go beyond the Devil to other superstitions, including things like witches. Yes, beyond local festivals and folklore they actually have a small collection of witch sculptures. According to Lithuanian folklore (as well as more common European folklore) witches learn their sorcery from the Devil and follow his commands. The abilities that they’re often accused of having often relate quite closely to that of the Devil, like shape changing into animals and cursing people.
Along the staircases between the floors they had introduced a temporary exhibit of artwork by British artist Stephen Vincent Mitchell. This contemporary devil-themed art looked to me like a collection of death-metal album covers, but it certainly is hard to ignore. It further adds to the idea that this is a museum covering both historic and modern periods, across various art forms.
The top floor is dedicated to tales of devils from around the globe. Here you can learn about devil myths from different cultures, from Poland to Africa to India. The exhibits share tales of the Polish demon Boruta, who terrorised the people around his castle after death and the Indian demon Ravana who had over 10 heads and 20 hands, and kidnapped a king’s wife disguised as a golden deer. They also touch on carnivals and masks like those used in Bulgaria. It puts a nice worldly spin on the museum and shows how universal the concept is.
There’s plenty more to learn from a visit to this museum, as I’ve only picked out a few of the themes it covers. If you are going to visit, try to bring your own little devil and add to this wonderfully bizarre collection.
Have you ever been to a Devil museum or any other oddly specific museums like this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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