Phoebe D. Bendit

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Phoebe Bendit

Phoebe Payne Bendit was a noted clairvoyant and, with her husband, the psychiatrist Laurence J. Bendit, a medical researcher. The Bendits were long-time members of the Theosophical Society. British by birth, they spent many years working at The Theosophical Society in America in Wheaton, Illinois, and also at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California.

Early life

Phoebe Daphne Payne was born in either 1889 or 1891 [1] in London’s East End, where her father was employed by the Thames Iron Works. John Payne, of Southern Irish and French Huguenot heritage, evidently was a restless soul, and the small family moved around a great deal during Phoebe's childhood. Her mother was English and trained as a teacher, which was fortunate since young Phoebe attended a dozen schools in as many years.[2]

Phoebe was clairvoyant from birth. In one of her books she described this as follows: “To be born clairvoyant is an odd thing, because one is quite unable to assess ordinary life without its counterpart of extra sensory perception. I do not remember a time when the visible world did not play into and through another world. I had no idea where one ended and the other began: they were both to me ordinary and natural, and they belonged together. . . . The world of the living and of ordinary affairs wove itself across the pattern of the so-called dead and their environment. It was therefore logical enough that, as a child, I should find it extremely difficult to understand what people meant by death, or why they were gloomy about the subject. . . But being accustomed to the presence of dead people is only a small part of the psychic's life, the threads of which naturally weave themselves through the commonplace happenings of everyday life.” [3]

Developing her clairvoyance

Apparently she wasn't given to talking much — or at all — about her perceptions, because she was 19 years old before it became clear to her just how different she was from most people. One Sunday at the City Temple, a "famous non-conformist hall" in central London, she observed three woman who were energetically singing along with the rest of the congregation — and who were floating in the air between the chapel floor and the balcony. Amused by this at first, she next realized that no one else seemed to be able to see them.

This revelation scared her quite badly, and she spent several weeks worrying about whether she might be mentally unbalanced. Fortunately she then met a medium, an older woman named Mrs. Neil, who helped her understand her extraordinary gift. The two women became good friends and were housemates for several years, studying and learning together.

After Mrs. Neil died, Phoebe began working as a secretary at the Stead Bureau or "Julia's Bureau," established in 1909 by W. T. Stead with the intention of "attempting to bridge the abyss between the Two Worlds ... [of] the incarnate and discarnate halves of the human race." [4] Although she attended many séances and liked and trusted the mediums she knew, believing they were motivated by a wish to help others, she was never a spiritualist. For young Phoebe, attending a séance was an opportunity to observe and learn.

According to her husband, Phoebe also studied at the British College of Psychic Science in London, which had been founded in 1920 by J. Hewat and Barbara McKenzie to investigate and experiment with psychic phenomena. (Although Hewat McKenzie died in 1929, his wife and others kept the school going until the mid-1940s.[5]) Among others, the well-known medium Eileen Garrett (1893-1970) worked with the BCPS staff during Phoebe's time there.[6]

Phoebe did some experimenting of her own while at the BCPS, which got her into some trouble. She found that if she thought about something hard enough and concentrated on projecting her thought, the medium in the center of the circle would begin to talk about what Phoebe had projected. She told some of her colleagues that she was going to cause the medium to produce the dead fiancée of a bachelor who had never had a fiancée --- and this was exactly what happened at the next séance. Summoned to the director's office and told she must not do things like that, her response was, essentially, that being an active experimenter was preferable to being a passive listener. The faculty did not agree with her, and given the choice of either obeying or leaving, she left the school.[7]

(This incident, of course, begs the question of the accuracy of psychic perceptions, a topic that Phoebe Payne Bendit devoted much of her professional life to investigating. The psychic sense, although somewhat rare and certainly difficult to measure and test, is nonetheless a recognized human ability. Many believe that it is latent in all of us.)

Theosophical Society involvement

Phoebe Payne was apparently still in her 20s when she discovered Annie Besant’s book The Ancient Wisdom. Her husband noted that "Theosophy seemed to answer her questions and coincided with what she already knew," [8] a sentiment familiar to a great many members of the Theosophical Society. Phoebe joined the Society in 1921[9] and found that she now had the opportunity to put her clairvoyant abilities to very good use. By this time she had much better mastery of her gifts, and she was able to work with health care professionals who were interested in the more hidden aspects of health and illness. Her diagnoses, verified by X-rays or surgical exploration, tended to be quite accurate.[10] Although she had no scientific training, Phoebe was a stickler for the scientific method --- she always wanted her perceptions to be tested and confirmed. She never assumed that her clairvoyant views were unassailable truth, and she didn't mind admitting when she did not know the answer to a question.

Life and work with Laurence Bendit

Phoebe Payne met Dr. Laurence Bendit around 1930, when they were both members of a group that was discussing the "subtler aspects of health and disease." [11] Dr. Bendit notice her in part because she was very different from another member of the group who was also reputed to be clairvoyant. This gentleman always had an answer for every question; although sometimes the answers didn't make sense, the man never said "I don't know." Sadly, he also appeared to have no sense of humor, in contrast to Phoebe's sometimes caustic wit.

Although she did want her clairvoyant perceptions verified, and certainly found scientific inquiry into her gifts to be legitimate, once she had confidence in her abilities she did not spend much time being tested. For one thing, Phoebe considered her abilities a gift to be used for the benefit of others, preferring to spend her time and energy helping to solve problems – such as diagnosing medical issues for which doctors could find no "real" cause. In addition, she did not think highly of "the cult of scientism,” that is, scientists who regarded any phenomenon they could not measure easily, and which they did not understand, as simply untrue. There was – and is – a growing body of evidence regarding the reality of psychic phenomena and of consciousness persisting after the death of the body. [12] Those who disregarded such evidence without examining it were not, in Phoebe's eyes, truly devoted to science, but only to their own belief system.

She had no sense of self-importance or even of ownership of her clairvoyance. Her husband observed, "indeed, so reserved was she that I often had to press the point that if she had noted something important – let us say a message from what seemed to be a dead person – it ought to be passed on even if it embarrassed her to do so. On the other hand, she realized that she had an instrument at hand which she should use for good purposes when it could be of value. She had a very strict code of ethics about these things." [13]

Phoebe Payne’s first book, Man’s Latent Powers, was published in 1938. It begins: “According to my mood it has either baffled or irritated me that the subject of psychism should be surrounded so persistently by an atmosphere of glamour and abnormality.” As she did throughout her life, she approached the topic matter-of-factly, rejecting sensationalism and simply presenting what she had learned through her own experience as well as her work with other people. Much of the book is based on her studies of séances and spiritualism, which of course were very popular during the early 20th century. While she occasionally encountered intentional fraud (a case of the few giving a bad reputation to the many), the vast majority of the mediums she studied were genuine, although with varying levels of ability. The book's later chapters discuss some of the issues associated with being psychic, as well as the need – and the methods – for anyone who is psychically gifted to take care of themselves.

Phoebe Payne and Dr. Laurence Bendit, a psychiatrist with theosophical and Jungian leanings, began working closely together in 1937 and were married in 1939. They wrote several books together, the first of which was entitled The Psychic Sense and which was published in 1943 by Faber & Faber Ltd (London). This very interesting book not only describes the psychic sense, it also looks at accompanying psychological issues, touches on the history of psychic phenomena, and discusses possible physical mechanisms for such experiences.

In addition to her medical work and authoring books with her husband, Phoebe was often consulted by people who needed help coping with psychic phenomena. Sometimes she was asked to go to a haunted house and explain what was happening, or she might be asked to help someone who was what the Bendits termed a “negative” psychic – that is, someone with little to no control over their abilities.

In one instance, in 1949, a couple asked her to investigate an experience that had terrified their 7-year-old daughter, who awoke one night to a stranger attempting to choke her.[14] The family ran a private school in an old castle, and their living quarters, called Tye Hall, were connected to the larger building. The girl described the stranger to her parents as wearing “baggy pants and tights” (i.e., Elizabethan dress) and as a smoker who had asthma and was “working class.” Reportedly there were visible marks left on the girl’s throat. Her parents contacted the “well-known English psychic and author, Phoebe Payne Bendit,” who visited the family. Phoebe told them that their very old home had been an inn in the 1600s, that the girl’s ground-floor bedroom had been a bar, and that the man was a sailor. Among other things, Phoebe recommended moving the child to another room, since she was still young enough to be sensitive to the atmosphere of the “dirty work” that had taken place in the bar. The girl’s parents (who were not native to the area) then began investigating the history of their house. They soon heard a local tale that Tye Hall had indeed been an inn — one that was used by smugglers. It had been a private residence for some time, but the room that the little girl had been sleeping in had never been used as a bedroom before.

As members of the English Section of the Theosophical Society, the Bendits were closely associated with the Science Group of the Theosophical World University, better known among theosophists as the Theosophical Research Centre. The medical arm of the Research Centre authored and published books such as The Mystery of Healing (1959), as well as a journal that circulated outside of England and outside of the Society [15]. Dr. Bendit was the General Secretary of the English Section from 1957 to 1961.


Both Phoebe and Laurence Bendit were much in demand as lecturers. At the English Section's Convention in 1953 she delivered the Blavatsky Lecture on the subject "The Sacred Flame: A Study in Human and Devic Consciousness".[16] In the fall of 1957 the Bendits spent three months on a lecture tour of the U.S., including at the American Section's National Conference in New Orleans. The Bendits were also guest speakers at the National Theosophical Conference in Washington, D.C., in 1961.[17]

The Bendits spent several years in the USA in the early 1960s, both at the Theosophical headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois, and at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California. The Annual General Report for 1963 notes that there were 43 lectures given by the Bendits throughout the fall of 1962, as they traveled the West Coast and through Wyoming, Colorado, and British Columbia. They were also the featured speakers at the National Conference in Atlanta in November 1962.


The Bendits were prolific writers. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 16 articles by or about Phoebe Payne and dozens more under the name Phoebe Bendit. She and her husband collaborated on many books, including (with date of first printing):

  • Our Psychic Sense (1943)
  • This World and That: An Analytical Study of Psychic Communication (1950)
  • Man Incarnate, A Study of the Vital Etheric Field (1957)
  • The Transforming Mind (published in 1970, after Phoebe's death)

In addition to several books, both of the Bendits, separately and as co-authors, contributed many articles and reviews to various Theosophical journals over the years. Phoebe Bendit also authored various short articles that were printed as pamphlets, including "The Psychic or Over-Sensitive Child" (1955), largely an excerpt from the Latent Powers book and published by The Parents' Group, a London team of theosophists hoping to ease the difficulties of both these children and their parents. In 1962 the Theosophical Society in America published two pamphlets she authored on the deeper meaning of the two major Christian holidays: "Easter, the Myth of Man's Regeneration," and "The Reality of Christmas."

Final years

After the Bendits returned to England in the mid 1960s, they continued to be very active in the Theosophical Society there, especially the Research Centre.

Phoebe Bendit lived until 1968, and in her lifetime contributed a great deal to our knowledge of the psychic sense and its relation to the whole human being. Perhaps her best contribution was her down-to-earth attitude toward the latent powers of humanity, which were so strongly manifested in her own personality. This attitude and her diligence made her a valuable and trusted resource for many people.

Additional resources

Audio recordings

These audio recordings of Phoebe and Laurence Bendit were made by the Theosophical Society in America from live lectures and radio broadcasts:

Lecture transcripts


  1. Most sources say 1891, but an article her husband wrote the year after her death (see next reference) says 1889.
  2. Information about Phoebe Payne's early life is from Psypioneer, Vol. 4, No. 10, Oct 2008: Reprint of a profile of Phoebe Payne Bendit by her husband, Laurence J. Bendit, which originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Parapsychology Foundation of New York, Vol. 16, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1969.
  3. Personal Foreword, in This World and That: An Analytical Study of Psychic Communication, by Phoebe D. Payne & Laurence J. Bendit. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950.
  4. "Julia's Bureau: An Attempt to Bridge the Grave. Reprinted from The Review of Reviews, vol. XXXIX, May, 1909, p. 433. It is apparently quoting an article from the Fortnightly Review (1909) by Mr. Stead.
  5. See and
  6. See the article by Dr. Bendit at
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. "Obituary, Mrs. Phoebe Bendit" Theosophical Journal, 9.4 (1968), 19.
  10. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 228.
  11. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 229.
  12. See, for example, Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind, by the neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, Ph.D. New York: Harper-Collins, 2012.
  13. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 229.
  14. See
  15. 84th Annual General Report of the Theosophical Society, 1959. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Society, March 1960, p. 5, 35.
  16. This lecture transcript is also available at Internet Archive.
  17. Both the 1957 and 1961 events were reported in that year's Annual General Report of the Theosophical Society.