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.

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. According to her husband, 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."

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, 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." [3] 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.[4]) Among others, the well-known medium Eileen Garrett (1893-1970) worked with the BCPS staff during Phoebe's time there.[5]

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.[6]

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," [7] a sentiment familiar to a great many members of the Theosophical Society. Phoebe joined the Society in 1921[8] 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.[9] 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.

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." [10] 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. [11] 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." [12]

Phoebe began working closely with Dr. Bendit in 1937. Her first book, Man’s Latent Powers, was published in 1938. As she had always done, she approached the topic matter-of-factly, rejecting sensationalism and simply presenting what she had learned through her own experience as well as her studies with other people.

She and Dr. Bendit, a psychiatrist with theosophical and Jungian leanings, 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.


  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. See, which is apparently an article from the Fortnightly Review (1909) by Mr. Stead.
  4. See and
  5. See the article by Dr. Bendit at
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Theosophical Journal, Vol. 9, Issue 4, 1968, p. 19: Obituary, Mrs. Phoebe Bendit.
  9. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 228.
  10. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 229.
  11. 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.
  12. Bendit, Psypioneer, p. 229.