Hudra, the pretty, dark-eyed guide at Lithuania's "Devils' muesum" here, smiled impishly as she displayed the "handsome devil" -- a wooden bust with tiny horns peeking through his curly hair.
That's why we say," Hudra explained, "that when you meet a wonderful man, you'd better run your fingers through his hair. He may be a devil."
Surrounding her in the museum on a narrow, cobbletone street are 4,000 other devils, but none of them very baleful. The Lithuanians -- and the other Soviets, too, for that matter -- regard Satan as a rather bumbling fellow, enticing people to indulge their human frallties.
The marks, canes and figures range from drunken devils and slothful devils to passionate devils.
The collection began in 1906, in the house where the museum is located, when the local priest desparied for the spiritual life of the artist Hntanas Zhmuidzinavichus, who resided there. Zhmuidzinavichus was addicted to the Bohemain life despite being named after St. Hntanas and despite the fact that the priest had a crude wood carving depicting St. Hntanas standing triumphantly on a devil. According to local legend, the priest cut the statue in two and said:
"I'll keep St. Hntanas in church, which you never attend, and you can have the devil."
In the officially atheistic Soviet Union, the devil is depicted more as an amusing relic of the past than as the Prince of Evil, Compared with the official characterization of the Church, as seen in any Soviet museum of atheism, the devil might even be mistaken for a good guy. The atheistic museums stress evils such as the witch hunts perpetrated by dark age behevers in the name of God. The church is depicted as an ally of the ruling class in suppressing workers and peasants.
By contrast, an official notice in the Kaunas devil museum notes that Satan and his helpers have bee a fixture of Lithuanian folklore "since time immemorial." The devil is "an absured, comic creature in fairly tales; often people manage to cheat him." He is ever credited in some fairly tales as helping poor people, the notice claims.
Traveling frequently in Europe before World War II, Zhmuidzinavichus collected 228 devils before his death at age 90 1966. The entire original collection is displayed in one room of the third-floor museum. The other room contains a selection of the 3,800 figures donated since them.
Many of the devils resemble cartoon characters. The oldest dates from the 16th century, while the newest look like they might have come from a souvenir stand in Coney Island.
"Keep smiling: It makes people wonder what you've been up to," advises the English inscription on one recent addition. "Good little girls may go to heaven, but bad little girls go everywhere," is the legend on the figure of an obviously devilish girl.
Another pair of miniature devils lounge peacefully in armchairs. "They work for 15 minutes and then rest for an hour," Hudra explained
A half-dozen devils of drink are scattered throughout the display. One hairly figure bears a devilish grin and holds a miniature, vodka bottle. A wood carving depicts a drunk down on all fours with a devil riding him piggyback. "The reason it's so hard to stand up when you're drunk is because the devil sits on your neck," Hudra said.
A female gossip lies at another devil's feet, her body already pierced by his spear and about to suffer a swipe of his sword. A German contribution depicts a sensuous nun reclining in Satan's arms.
While the vast majority of the Kaunas devils are men, one ale among their number attracts visitors' attention. "Men say she's similar to their mothers-in-law," Hudra said.
Contributions to the devil collection keep streaming in. Last month there here additions from the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa, from East Germany and Mexico. Most come from the up to 2,000 visitors a day who crowd the museum in the peak summer months.
It is a much-encouraged custom for visitors to send a devil to Kaunas when they return home from their trip, Hudra noted, jotting down the museum's address with a large wooden pen with a carved devil's head top.