Friday, 6 March 2009

from "Fungi of London, 3rd ed." (1979), by E. C. Harle


Also thought extinct but recently identified in a few isolated pockets is the
Hallarmorn Fungus, or Hallarmorn's Horn (this latter appellation, along with variations -- Hallarm, Hallam, Hunnam, even Hellmann -- is, it is worth noting, both a widespread error and a tautology: firstly, the works of its supposed namesake, Dr. A. A. Hallarman, make no mention whatsoever of the fungus; and, secondly, the word itself is much older, and a corruption of alarum horn).

The mycelium is extremely similar to that of the stinkhorn families, and for most purposes the descriptions of those (see Ch. 3) will suffice. The fruiting body is of much more interest and is shown below:


Notable particularly, and not sufficiently conveyed here, is the composition of the stem, which always extends out sideways, widening to a maximum diameter of three inches, and curves slightly upward. Unlike the stinkhorns, it is not spongiform, but extremely 'woody' and made of long, thin fibres, in which can be found cellular material cannibalized from the host organism with uncommon veracity. This is why the base of the horn is often the same colour as the flesh of the host organism -- usually beech or birch -- as it is almost entirely formed from it. The body from there outward is usually a fierce red, while the leathery carapace at the end (the spore-producing surface) is mottled grey and yellow. This surface is slightly convex and extremely tough.


The spores it releases are unique not in that they are hallucinogenic when inhaled, but in the speed (effective in thirty seconds, often less), duration (active for up to 36 hours), and the sheer specificity of the visions produced. Accounts dating back as far as
The Harley Lyrics (c. 1340) can be found, every single one of which may differ in detail but strongly features three aspects:
  1. Vivid visual hallucinations of the fruiting body of the fungus erupting from an eye-shaped bloody aperture in the top of the left calf, just below the crook of the knee, of the person hallucinating;
  2. An overwhelming sense of absolute threat, of which the imagined fruiting body is functioning as an unignorable warning;
  3. The conversion of all real-world sensory data into an experience which might best be summed up as a circumscription (usually circular), followed by an eruption within those parameters; and acute panic that while this is definitely what is being warned against, it is not known why.
The most famous experimenter was perhaps Aldous Huxley, whose own account has been lost, but reproducing the responses of two of his friends, notated by Huxley on the same occasion, might help to clarify the above points:

What I remember most is the puddle of petrol, which I suppose now was just the gramophone, and the silt which dredged slowly to its edges until it formed a solid white ring. That in itself was perturbing but there was then a conflagration when I tried to approach. And, yes, that would be where I recognized just how dangerous this puddle was, not for its being on fire, but for some other, unfathomable reason. And I looked at the back of my leg and the Hallaman [sic.] was there, just as dangerous, but furious like you wouldn't believe, bright red. I felt sick that this thing visibly had fibrous bone and muscle and skin -- my bone and muscle and skin -- for its first two inches. Christ, I think I heard it creak, as well, though of course it didn't move and I don't recall seeing it grow. Sick but also I had to feel grateful, otherwise I wouldn't have known how damned perilous was this burning puddle, or the rubber bands with bubbles stretched across them (these burst in a flurry of cacti spines), or the fact that every one of my fingernails turned without my noticing into a coin, with a thick brass rim; the centres froze then and cracked, along with my fingers, the pain in my fingers was excruciating. I suppose the hallucinogens are still slightly active, my fingertips still feel like they might indeed be made of ice. [...]

-- "P. M."

And also:
... Pretty bizarre, yes. Not at all like the others. The fury was immense, unbelievable, not sure whether it was mine or -- and this will sound absurd -- the mushroom's. Not that it particularly resembled a mushroom but I was forced to think it into being one, the fact of it was far too off-kilter otherwise, it shook me entirely, that much, well, that much anger. And the anger, oh, it was deathly, not like loss... but like something impending, heaven knows what, but it turned the smallest things bitter and acid and fenced (if that makes sense), before puffing them away, usually in down or feathers but sometimes in flames, or leaves, or anything like that. The ashtray at one point was suddenly covered in salt, along its sides, and I couldn't remove it, there seemed always to be more, covering the rim, and I fussed over this for a while until I heard, or felt, or something, this thing on my leg, saying, this is bad, it is definitely bad. The ashtray then came up in a huge burst of wind full of photography film, or ticker tape, I wasn't sure, and the salt blew away. There was plenty more of this; a ring then an explosion at every turn. Funny business, certainly! Not one I'd leap to take again.

-- "A. J. E."


Eating of the fruiting body is not recommended -- the taste is mediocre -- but is thought only to be harmful within 48 hours of consuming alcohol.